Wake County superintendent finalists answer questions - WNCN: News, Weather

Wake County superintendent finalists answer questions

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Dana Tyrone Bedden Dana Tyrone Bedden
Ann Blakeney Clark Ann Blakeney Clark
Jim Merrill Jim Merrill

Parents in Wake County got a chance to ask questions of the finalists for the Wake County Schools superintendent position, vacated last fall when the school board terminated Tony Tata.

Dana Tyrone Bedden, Jim Merrill, and Ann Blakeney Clark took questions from the public during a community forum at Memorial Auditorium at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh.

About 100 people attended the public forum that covered topics from how politics affects the school system to bullying.

Merrill called bullying "vicious" and said awareness about the issue is key as well as training all employees about bullying.

Merrill has experience working in the Wake County Public School System. When asked if that gave him an advantage over Bedden or Clark, he said it didn't.

"(It was) 13 years ago, and then some. The growth, the change in Wake County has been tremendous since I've been gone, so no there's no edge here."

The public also got to hear from the candidates on how he or she would convince the public to support a more than $800 million school bond to pay for new construction and renovations.

"Under my leadership, we've never not been successful in hitting and delivering on the things that were approved in the bond, and quite often we've come under budget," said Bedden.

Bedden, who is facing politically charged challenges from the school board in Irving, Tex., was asked if his interest in the Wake County position was due to concern over his job security.

"I applied for Wake County because Wake County's a great job...there are other openings across the country. I applied for this one," Bedden said. "I have a contract that goes until 2017, so I'm going to work until something happens, either they take action, and there (are) specific rules and regulations that govern what that could look like, but at the same time, I'm also going to do what's right for my family."

Bedden, Merrill, and Clark toured area schools Tuesday morning. Bedden toured Millbrook High School in Raleigh. In Cary, Merrill toured Farmington Woods Elementary and Clark visited Middle Creek High School in Apex.

Clark, who works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, was passed over for the superintendent position there last year. She was asked if she had any hard feelings and if she only wants the Wake County job for the sake of being a superintendent somewhere.

"This isn't about being a superintendent anywhere," Clark said. "This is about being the superintendent in Wake County and I think the set of skills and experiences I've had in Charlotte will help me be a great leader here in Wake County."

At the end of the night, Clark referred to Wake County Schools as the "best school district in the nation."

The Wake County Board of Education announced the names of three finalists on May 21. They hope to have the new superintendent start in July.

All three candidates have extensive backgrounds in the classroom, school administration, and district-level administration, the system said.

Wake County is looking to replace former Superintendent Tony Tata, who was fired last fall by a Democratic-led board.

Here are the three finalists, with background information provided by Wake Schools:

Dana Tyrone Bedden

Bedden is the superintendent of the Irving Independent School District in Irving, Tex. The district serves 35,111 students on 38 campuses. His priorities there have included implementing a multi-year district improvement plan and a strategic communications plan. He also initiated improvements in special education and human resources functions, leading the district through challenging financial times due to state-level funding reductions.

Prior to his service in Irving, Bedden served as superintendent in for the Richmond County School System based in Augusta, Ga.  While there, the graduation rate increased nearly 14 percentage points. He has also served as superintendent in Pennsylvania where he launched the system's first cyber academy and its first online summer school. As a principal in Washington, D.C., at the School Without Walls Senior High School, his students maintained a 95 percent college admission rate.

He began his educational career as a middle school teacher and coach for football, basketball, and track. He earned his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He earned his master's degree in educational administration from Pennsylvania State University and his bachelor's degree from the University of Florida.  

Bedden has completed post-doctoral courses in school business leadership at Wilkes University and attended the Harvard University Graduate School of Education's Leadership Institute for Superintendents.

Ann Blakeney Clark

Clark is the deputy superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), the second-largest school system in North Carolina. She began her career in Charlotte as a teacher of the behaviorally and emotionally handicapped children in 1983 and has held a variety of teaching and administrative positions in CMS. Her extensive background includes serving as principal at elementary, middle, and high schools. She was named National Principal of the Year in 1994.  

Prior to her service as CMS's Deputy Superintendent, she served as the associate superintendent of education services.  In that role, she oversaw the district's curriculum, professional development, and classroom instruction.

Clark is involved in the community, serving on boards of Communities in Schools, Children's Theatre, the Davidson College Board of Visitors, Smart Start, and Levine Museum of the New South. Her educational achievements have been widely recognized. In addition to earning the National Principal of the Year honor, Clark is a Broad Superintendent Fellow, a First Lady of Charlotte, a Thomas Jefferson Distinguished Alumnae from the University of Virginia, and a William Friday Fellow.

Clark graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts in English. She earned a master's degree in special education from the University of Virginia. She also holds administrator and curriculum and supervision certification from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

James Merrill

Merrill has served as superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), the third largest school division in Virginia, since 2006. As superintendent, he has spearheaded the creation and implementation of a strategic plan emphasizing 21st century skills.  

Prior to his service in Virginia Beach, Merrill served six years as superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System. Previously, he spent 16 years in the Wake County Public School System, last serving as Associate Superintendent for Administration and Finance. He began his career in 1973 as an English teacher.

Merrill has earned numerous accolades and awards, including the 2005 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year award and the 2013 Virginia Superintendent of the Year honor. He has also been elected to the Executive Committee of the Governing Board of the American Association of School Administrators. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Education awarded him the Outstanding Achievement Award and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Education honored him with its Distinguished Leadership Award.  

Merrill was a Morehead Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill earning a bachelor's degree in secondary English. He earned his master's degree in education administration from Appalachian State University and his doctorate from UNC-Greensboro.

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