Wake County Schools

New Wake superintendent begins first day on the job

Posted January 31, 2011 8:16 a.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2011 3:56 p.m. EST

— Wake County public schools' new superintendent Tony Tata spent his first day on the job touring Monday schools and meeting principals, teachers and students.

“Wake County has a heck of a lot to be proud of, and people can say what they want, but we’ve got great students, great teachers (and) great administrators. If somebody wants to talk about us nationally, tell them to come to me, and I’ll tell them how great we are,” Tata said Monday.

Tata started the day by meeting with all Wake County principals. Then he hit the halls of Enloe High School for a tour.

"My first priority is just to understand as much as I can about this school system from east to west (and) north to south so that, as we get into the really tough decisions that we've got to make, I have the most informed information," he said.

Enloe Principal Beth Cochran guided Tata's tour and said she enjoyed hearing his thoughts and expectations for the county's schools.

"I think all of us are just really hopeful that he'll help us look forward and move forward and not backward and do what's best for the students of Wake County," Cochran said.

Tata, who also visited Carnage Middle and Aversboro Elementary schools on Monday, was the chief operating officer for District of Columbia Schools. The school board hired the retired Army general following a lengthy search for a replacement for former Superintendent Del Burns, who retired last year. He has called the move from a 28-year career in the military to education a “natural transition.”

His appointment comes at a time when North Carolina’s largest school system is facing numerous challenges, including high student enrollment and $100 million in school budget cuts that could mean teacher layoffs.

The Wake County school board that hired him also faces a public challenge to their vote for a controversial student assignment proposal that opponents say will violate the civil rights of economically disadvantaged students.

Compounding those issues have been concerns from the public, educators and some school board members that Tata might not be the right person to lead the school system because of his lack of experience in education.

"I understand there’s some anxiety,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “I’m a non-traditional pick, but what they have to understand is (that) all of my life, I have been taking care of these 17-, 18-, 19-year-old enlistees – young men and women – that have come from mostly public schools around this country. I’ve spent a career dedicated to caring for, coaching, teaching and mentoring young men and women across the country in a multitude of assignments.”