Finalists for Wake County Schools superintendent meet with parents

May 28, 2013 8:08:17 PM PDT
Parents in Wake County got the chance to meet the three finalists for school superintendent Tuesday evening.

Dr. Dana Bedden of Irving, Texas, Ann Clark from Charlotte and Dr. James Merrill from Virginia Beach took part in a public hearing at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.

During the public hearing, the candidates talked about bullying, the possible overuse of suspension as punishment, and the role of school resource officers in discipline.

On bullying, all of the candidates agreed that bullying is different than it used to be years ago, and that programs should be put in place to educate students and teachers about what to look for in the classroom when it comes to bullying and how to report it.

On the overuse of suspension as a punishment, particularity the racial makeup of who lands in suspension, Merrill talked about how he sees too many situations where students are punished too severely with suspension.

Clark said you have to discipline by getting to the root of the behavior and not just be quick to dole out punishment.

Bedden said time out of school and away from their studies is not always the best solution in disciplinary cases.

On school resource officers, Bedden said we have to get back to doing things administratively before handing situations over to the school resource officer. He said he sees too many citations being handed down from SROs that could have been handled by the teacher or principal.

Merrill said, "We are too quick to press that police button sometimes."

Clark said there needs to be a huge effort in reviewing the conduct policy to decide the roll an SRO should play in discipline.

Earlier in the day, the three candidates each toured a school in the county, while fielding reporters' questions about working with Wake County's school board.

"I encourage a noisy environment with staff and the community," said Bedden before touring Millbrook High School in Raleigh. "Everybody should be invited to have an opportunity to have a voice. I think that's how you get to some good decisions. You hear a variety of viewpoints."

The Wake school board fired former Superintendent Tony Tata last September following disagreements. Merrill said he could handle the challenge of clashes on the school board.

"There are big dollars in play. There's going to be debate," Merrill said while at Farmington Woods Elementary in Cary. "I think as long as folks can keep channels open constantly, keep talking, keep working, usually you get to a resolution that all parties and be comfortable with."

Clark added that she too could face the challenge.

"I come as an instructional leader with a focus on academics and building the capacity of the teachers and principals of the district," she said before her tour of Middle Creek High School in Apex. "If you put a laser-like focus on that and you do well, and you succeed, then people are less likely to be concerned about the partisan politics."

Twenty-three candidates applied for the position. The board chose four as semi-finalists and then narrowed the list to three.

The school board will conduct final interviews with the candidates on Wednesday. The announcement of the new superintendent could come as early as the next school board meeting on June 4. Once a decision is made, a start date will be announced.

An interim superintendent has been in place since Tata's ousting. Stephen Gainey announced in April that he accepted the position of superintendent of Randolph County Schools. He starts July 1.

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