Providing hope to students who feel left behind and inspiring students to exceed their expectations is what Clayton Wilcox says is the most important aspect of his job as the next CMS superintendent. At his first press conference Tuesday, Wilcox says he has a lot to learn about the issues CMS faces but feels he has what it takes to move the district forward. WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn was at the press conference.
Mark Rumsey: Gwendolyn, I understand that Wilcox talked about his background a lot.
Gwendolyn Glenn: He did Mark, almost as if to assure any naysayers that he is qualified for the position. His hiring was not a unanimous decision by the school board. We don’t know who voted for or against Wilcox. There was a lot of secrecy around the process, the finalist for the position, and after Wilcox was named last month, his first visit to a couple of schools was only made available to one news outlet. So, prior to today’s press conference, school officials have mainly introduced him to the public through video snippets on Twitter from Wilcox and board members.
Rumsey: CMS doesn’t have a record of keeping superintendents for a long time in recent years. Did Wilcox say how long he plans to stay with CMS?
Glenn: He said he’s committed to being here but gave no time frame. He’s coming here from Hagerstown, Maryland and I reminded him that when he was superintendent in the Tampa, Florida area, he said he’d stay as long as that district wanted him, but he left three years early. His explanation: "It sounded good at the time to say, I’m here as long as you will have me and every day after I said it, I was reminded of it and felt badly," Wilcox said. "It was always my intention to stay but I was naïve that things change."
Glenn: Mark, he says he’s 61-years-old now and that he and his wife have always thought of retiring to Charlotte because he felt their two children, who are in the finance field, would probably end up here. I also asked Dr. Wilcox about the stormy relationship he had with some board members there and public disputes he had with the board’s attorney, and how he planned to work with officials here. He says he was younger then and thought he knew more than he did.
"I think I’m a smarter person now in the sense you can’t be as direct, confrontational, you have to work with people in different ways. You have to be thoughtful, people expect to have their thoughts and rights fully considered to a larger degree than perhaps a younger Clayton might have given people," Wilcox said. "I’m more mature right now. That’s not to say we won't have rocky moments because I have a sense of urgency that others may not share. I believe our kids don’t have tomorrow, they have today and I will push very hard to give the services today to them that you and I would expect for our children, I know for mine."
Rumsey: When he comes in July, I’m sure he’ll be swamped with implementing the district’s new student assignment plan where income will play a big role in order to make the schools more diverse.
Glenn: That’s right Mark and Wilcox said that he’s worked in large, diverse school districts as superintendent in Florida and Louisiana where he says inequalities were acknowledged and worked on, but the push for diversity partly based on income in the student assignment plan here, will be a first for him.
"I had no experience doing that in terms of a stated agenda of moving students based on their wealth, but I believe it’s important for young people to go to school with students different from them in terms of race, in terms of economics and thought because we live in a diverse world and our schools have to reflect the environment that children need to be successful," Wilcox said.
Glenn: He says finding ways to make the student assignment plan work in a way that the community understands it is a top priority, as is literacy and getting students to read at or above their grade levels early in the game.
Rumsey: Anything else?
Glenn: Mark, Dr. Wilcox says there’s a lot he doesn’t know about local issues and that he plans to spend the next couple of months listening and coming up with ways to get more parents involved with CMS. He says he also wants to forge a better partnership with state leaders and that he quote “won’t hide,” when it comes to meeting with the media.