Will she or won't she? That's the question of the moment when it comes to acting Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Ann Clark, the veteran administrator who assumed the duties of the school system's top job early this month after the school board voted to accept Heath Morrison's resignation.
Clark has been around the school system some 32 years, and was a finalist for the superintendent's job in 2012 when the board instead picked Morrison. She was the steady, reliable insider who rose through the ranks. He was charismatic outsider, a national Superintendent of the Year winner. But he flamed out here under the weight of a report from the school district's general counsel that said his fiery temperament had stoked a "culture of fear" among employees.
The board asked Clark to lead the district on an interim basis, but hasn't decided whether to pursue a national search for a permanent replacement. The board didn't even officially name her the interim superintendent. At a press briefing Thursday, reporters asked her the inevitable question: Do you want the job permanently?
She went into full Hillary Clinton mode.
"Everyone's clear that I applied for the superintendent's position two and a half years ago, but I'll be honest, I've really not had the opportunity to hit pause on the day to day operations of the district in the last three weeks to really be thoughtful about what the next step is in my leadership journey. Nor have I had the chance to talk with the board. I'm hoping I'll have that time over Thanksgiving break to really be thoughtful. But I'm just clear my task right now is to move us forward. And that's what I'm doing."
Ann Clark is "being thoughtful" about applying for the top CMS job in the same way Hillary Clinton is "being thoughtful" about deciding whether to run for president in 2016. Which is to say Clark clearly wants it and has likely already decided to pursue it -- she's just not ready to spell it out publicly yet.
|Ann Clark addresses the media Thursday|
Comforting though her presence must be, Clark cannot fill the gaping leadership void left by Morrison's departure without the full weight of the office behind her. Every directive she gives the staff comes with an asterisk, subject to change by the next permanent superintendent.
And speaking of asterisks, there's a second point that must be made. Morrison's departure has left a cloud of questions around Clark. General counsel George Battle's report quoted Clark as saying Morrison created the "culture of fear" among the staff. Asked about that by the Observer's Andrew Dunn, Clark declined to say whether that quote was accurate or whether she brought any concerns about Morrison to the board or to Morrison himself.
She cited Morrison's separation agreement, approved by the board, which includes confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses. We understand there are legal issues involved here. But public confidence in CMS and the board has been badly dented. If Clark decides to announce for the job, and if the board wants to give it to her, those questions must be addressed somehow.
But for now, board members seem desirous of a break from the problem. At their meeting Wednesday, they didn't take up the issue of next steps in the search for a new superintendent. Chairwoman Mary McCray said the board already knows its next steps -- teaching and learning, as outlined in CMS' overall strategic plan.
That's fine. But you need a CEO to implement that plan -- one who isn't distracted by questions about whether the job is his or hers to keep. The board would be wise not to let another meeting pass without addressing the issue.
-- Eric Frazier