Local Politics

Cumberland schools chief to head DPI

Posted January 26, 2009 4:59 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2009 6:31 p.m. EST

— Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison was named Monday as the new chairman of the State Board of Education and chief executive officer of the state's public school system.

A recent consultant's report criticized the state Department of Public Instruction for a lack of leadership, and Gov. Bev Perdue said that placing Harrison is a CEO role – effectively putting him in charge of day-to-day operations in the department – would fill that void.

“We need to have a clear line of accountability and better structural support to implement new policies,” Perdue said in announcing a string of changes to the state's educational leadership. "I thought long and hard about it – did a lot of reading, talked to a lot of people – and have decided that this is about the only way I can solve the whole issue of who's in charge."

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has no statutory authority over the DPI's operations and primarily works with education and business leaders statewide to improve schools. In addition to that role, Perdue asked her to lead a task force on career development and work force issues.

Harrison also replaces Howard Lee on the Board of Education, and Perdue said the longtime state senator would become the executive director of her Education Cabinet.

The cabinet includes state education leaders and is supposed to develop "a strategic design for a continuum of education programs." The group met infrequently during former Gov. Mike Easley's administration, and Perdue pledged to revive it.

Perdue also named Myra Best as her special adviser on education and education innovation issues. Best is director of the Business Education Technology Alliance and the E-Learning Commission.

“Myra has been instrumental in helping me put more technology in our schools,” Perdue said. “She will help us continue to reach our goals of providing 21st-century learning options in every corner of our state.”

Also, J.B. Buxton, a former education adviser to Easley, said he would step down as deputy state superintendent, and Perdue said she has no plans to fill the position with Harrison overseeing DPI.

Harrison, whose annual salary remains at $220,835, has headed the Cumberland County school district since August 1997. He also spent 13 years, from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, as a teacher and principal in the district.