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CMS Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox to resign Aug. 2

Updated: Jul. 19, 2019 at 12:32 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox will resign from his position, effective August 2, the School Board announced Friday morning.

The resignation comes after the CMS board met at the Government Center to discuss Wilcox’s contract Friday at 9:30 a.m. during a closed session meeting. Before the board went into closed session, Board Chair Mary McCray addressed the public to discuss due process and confidential personnel records. Many thought after Friday’s closed session the board would disclose the issues they had with Dr. Clayton Wilcox. The board announced that would not happen.

“Every employee should have confidence that this board will honor and protect each and every employee’s legal right to privacy,” CMS School Board Chairperson Mary McCray said. “We’re going to do this even if it means bad PR for the nine of us. We have been elected to accept that bad PR.”

According to the draft separation agreement, Wilcox will not be paid compensation in exchange for his resignation but will “receive compensation and benefits due him under the Employment Agreement through the Resignation Date.” The is the second time CMS has had to deal with a superintendent resignation. The last one happened in 2014 when Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison abruptly resigned.

“I think there is an issue there,” Education Chair of Charlotte Black Political Caucus Dee Rankin said. “And obviously if there is a consistent turnover at that leadership position - there needs to be some type of re-evaluation whether it’s between CMS leadership and the board or what it may be.”

Rankin is also a CMS parent. He hopes the next CMS leader will finish what Wilcox started.

“Curriculum Culture was important,” Rankin said. “And equity is important - so hopefully that can remain consistent with whoever comes in next.”

Wilcox will remain suspended with pay until his last day on August 2nd. It appears the district is not skipping a beat when it comes to handling the business of the second largest school district in the state.

“We are moving forward,” CMS Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ said. “We are moving forward together. School will open on time. We will be ready. We’ve got strong curriculum changes that we think are built to close some of the achievement gaps that we know we have - that commitment to equity the board has made remains a focus.”

Just after 11 a.m. Monday, CMS sent out a statement detailing the suspension and Wilcox’s replacement while he was suspended:

“CMS can confirm that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education has suspended Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. The suspension goes into effect today and Dr. Wilcox will continue to receive his salary while suspended. During this time, Earnest Winston will serve as Acting Superintendent. CMS remains focused on the priorities that matter most – our students, teaching and learning in every school as we look forward to the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot provide further details at this time.”

The board met twice in closed session in recent weeks to discuss Wilcox’s performance.

Sources say the CMS board had hired the public relations firm Ketchum to handle the situation involving the superintendent’s suspension.

CMS announced Monday that Earnest Winston, the district’s chief engagement officer and ombudsman, would be serving as acting superintendent. After the announcement on Wilcox’s resignation on Friday, Winston released a statement:

"CMS students, families, staff and community members,

"We are in a time of leadership transition in our school district, but our focus on students remains clear because they are what matter most.

"As your Acting Superintendent, I am committed to providing stability, to steady leadership and to making sure our work in CMS continues without interruption.

"I have served our school district for 15 years...as a teacher in the classroom, an administrator, as Chief of Staff and most recently as Chief Community Relations and Engagement Officer.

"But my most important job in CMS is being a parent. My expectations are the same as yours and together we will keep moving forward to meet those expectations.

"How will we move forward together?

"We will teach and learn with high expectations and a challenging curriculum. We will remain committed to providing equity for all students. We will graduate the class of 2020 with diplomas that are keys to real opportunities...that’s how we move forward.

"We will do this work with our talented teachers, outstanding support staff and dedicated principals, but also with our volunteers, community and corporate partners and faith-based organizations...that’s how we move forward.

"CMS will welcome students back in August with smiles…with clean, safe schools…with more supports for students than ever…with well-prepared teachers, classrooms and staff…with confidence and with clarity that our students matter most…that’s how we move forward.

"I am excited to continue to work with you in my new role. Stay in touch with us at wearecms.com or on social media for updates.

"During this time of transition, thank you for your support of all of our 147,000 students, our 19,000 employees and each other across our Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools community.

“Together, we will keep moving forward.”

Winston claims that under his leadership, the focus of CMS will remain on doing what’s best for the students.

In the past decade, CMS has had five superintendents.

The suspension of Wilcox puts CMS into the second leadership crisis in five years, after former Superintendent Heath Morrison was forced to resign in November 2014.

Sources say there were several things that led up to Dr. Wilcox’s suspension. One area of concern was that the district stopped fingerprinting new employees for the past year, sources say. The board was not pleased when they found out.

CMS says more than 3,000 new employees were not fingerprinted, despite the fact that it is CMS policy to fingerprint all new employees to ensure individuals who work with students have been thoroughly checked out.

In a recent interview with WBTV, Wilcox said the absence of fingerprinting was his fault.

Originally, Charlotte Mecklenburg School representatives claimed the reason they stopped fingerprinting new employees in the district was because they changed fingerprinting companies.

“We dropped the ball because we didn’t change the policy before we changed the practice," Wilcox said.

On Monday afternoon, CMS sent out an open letter regarding the suspension.

The letter read:

CMS students, families, staff and community members, Governance and stewardship of CMS executive leadership is a key function of the Board of Education and a responsibility entrusted to us by the public on behalf of over 147,000 students, their families, and 19,000 employees across 175 schools and facilities. Guided by those responsibilities, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education announced the suspension of Superintendent Clayton Wilcox today, July 15, 2019. Under existing CMS policies, Dr. Wilcox will continue to receive his salary while suspended. During this time, CMS Chief Engagement Officer and Ombudsman Earnest Winston will serve as Acting Superintendent for our school district. Because this is a personnel matter, the Board cannot provide further details at this time. A school district is a community of people who are all dedicated to one thing above all – educating and supporting our students to prepare them for the futures they can achieve and deserve. Our work together for our students will continue uninterrupted, and together, we will succeed. Students, we are preparing every day for the start of the 2019-2020 school year and a strong year of teaching and learning in safe, healthy and supportive schools. We are focused on your well-being in every way possible. We will keep moving forward to help each of you succeed to your highest potential and to achieve your dreams. Families, our shared goal across the district is to maintain close focus on giving your students every opportunity available and to work tirelessly to support them. CMS colleagues and staff, we pledge our continuing support as leaders to our shared efforts. We each have an important part to play in making sure we do our absolute best for our students no matter our job title, role or position. In the days and weeks ahead, we will move forward together in trust and we will keep our focus on what matters most – each and every CMS student.

Sincerely,

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

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