Business leader weighs in on CMS leadership turnover

After the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to remove superintendent Earnest Winston, the fourth school chief in 10 years, a local business leader says the decision shows how difficult the job is and could give other applicants a pause in considering it.

But Bill Russell, President and CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, said he is confident the board will fill the spot with the right person.

What You Need To Know

  • CMS superintendent change is fourth in 10 years
  • Business leader says the job can be a ‘challenge’
  • Business leader says they have confidence in interim superintendent

Reaction from parents and community leaders has come in all week, as many were surprised by the decision.

Russell said the board vote Tuesday was not expected.

“I think most of us, and everybody I spoke to, were unaware of the change that might take place. I wouldn’t say shocked, but certainly surprised,” Russell said Thursday afternoon.

Russell, who’s held the presidency since 1996, said he has seen a lot over the years. He said the board’s decision shows how difficult the job of leading CMS can be.

It’s a lot of stakeholders, so you don’t have to be just a great administrator. You’re going to have to be a great politician, you also have to be a great communicator. So, there’s a lot of skillsets involved,” Russell said. “We’ve seen some fantastic leaders come into CMS, and there has been some churn, some turnover. So, there is a challenge to being that big of a school system.”

Part of Russell’s, and the chamber’s job is to ensure incoming businesses and their employees have good quality of life, which includes quality school options both private and public.

“We’re going to make sure that we have the infrastructure in place for our businesses, but we want it to have a good quality of life for the people who own the businesses, who work at the businesses,” Russell added.

Which is why he and his board at the chamber have a vested interest in school performance. Russell said the challenges at CMS are wide ranging, due to the size and scope of the district. But, he also said the recent changeover at the top office the last decade could make new applicants wary, something he said he’s seen with chamber positions.

“We know of some areas where there’s been churn and turnover there too. Perhaps the individual, as the chamber executive, got there and they determined not a great fit for them. Or, it could’ve been the board had expectations of that individual that we as chamber execs know, that’s probably not a location you want to go to,” Russell continued, “Well, same thing for CMS.”

When the news broke Tuesday, Russell said he almost immediately started hearing from some of his 800 member businesses.

“By Tuesday at noon, I had people saying, ‘Have you heard this has taken place?’ And yes, there has been a little bit of discussion we’ve had with business leaders,” Russell said.

In the days following, Russell said he and other business leaders are confident in the experience of interim superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh. Hattabaugh’s first day on the job will be Monday, according to a CMS press release.

Russell also said he thinks the board will eventually find the right person.

“Well, I don’t know that they haven’t. I think we’ve had some very good people in the past at the school system. It’s just a matter of making sure that you get somebody that can come in and take care of these challenges now. That individual is out there,” Russell said.

“President John F. Kennedy said one time, ‘If being president was easy, everyone would want to do it,’” he added.

At the end of the day, Russell said CMS is a good school system and has its challenges and growing pains similar to other large districts.


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