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‘We wish them the best:’ Education leaders in NC offer perspective to CMS after ending contract with superintendent on Tuesday

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education fired Earnest Winston on Tuesday
The CMS Board of Education voted to remove Superintendent Earnest Winston from his position during an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 6:45 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Change of any kind can be met with mixed emotions.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted to fire superintendent Earnest Winston during an emergency meeting Tuesday.

Board members voted publicly 7-2 to terminate Winston’s contract.

“We believe that a different leader is needed to shore up this district and achieve high goals in literacy math and student readiness. Student outcomes are what matter most,” CMS board chair Elyse Dashew said in the announcement.

Related: CMS board fires superintendent Winston

Former CMS At-Large Board Member Mary McCray served on the board for eight years and watched four different superintendents leave. She served on the board from December 2011 to December 2019.

She says a change in district leadership is a loss of “talent” not just of the superintendent, but the staff they bring in with them.

“It’s detrimental in a sense,” she said.

She gave an example of the optimism she felt about new innovations and programs during Dr. Peter Gorman’s term as superintendent from 2006 to 2011. She says those feelings faded as many staff members left after Gorman resigned.

She also criticized the Board’s decision to release Winston’s personnel file items; something she said the Board didn’t do with previous superintendents such as Dr. Clayton Wilcox, who was suspended before resigning.

“The humanity was taken out of the way that he was dismissed in the actions that followed after he was dismissed and that was the releasing of the personnel files,” McCray added that the Board should be more considerate of how this will affect Winston’s children who are CMS students.

Per State Statute 115C-321, the personnel file can be released for public inspection “if it is essential to maintaining the integrity of the board or to maintaining the level or quality of services provided by the board.”

McCray says finding a new superintendent can be challenging but also rewarding.

“A district always needs new energy,” McCray said.

Holly Grimsley is the chair of the Cabarrus County Board of Education. She also saw her fair share of changes last year.

Cabarrus County Schools’ previous superintendent Chris Lowder retired in 2021 after more than five years of service. Their district had an interim superintendent from April 2021 to August 2021, and with the help of the North Carolina School Board Association, they hired and swore in Dr. John Kopicki as superintendent in August 2021.

Deanna Kaplan is the chair of the Winston Salem- Forsyth County Schools Board of Education. She says in her 3.5 years on the board they’ve had four superintendents.

“It has certainly been extremely challenging as a board, especially during two years of a pandemic,” Kaplan said. “Fortunately, we now have an incredible Superintendent who has stepped up to the challenges that our District faced pre and post-pandemic, and has single-handedly worked to change our culture, create trust among our educators and community, and develop strong board working relations.”

At the same time, McCray says CMS should use this time to identify someone who can help them improve the history of low-performance scores for minority children. The district has more than 40 low-performing schools.

“We cannot continue to do the same thing we’ve been doing and we’re just going to get the same results we’ve been getting and those have been null and void for Black and Brown children,” McCray said.

Regardless of the reason for the change, Grimsley is encouraging CMS and is hopeful they’ll find the right fit for their students.

“We wish them the best and know that they’ll take their time and do what’s best for CMS,” Grimsley said.

Kaplan is also sending words of encouragement.

“Hiring the right superintendent is the most important job, in my opinion, of the board,” Kaplan said. “It sets the tone for the successful future of our students as well as our community.”

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