Meet Clayton Wilcox, soon to be the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ incoming superintendent introduced himself to the Charlotte community on Tuesday, just hours before the school board voted to approve his contract.

Clayton Wilcox will become the school district’s top executive July 1, ultimately responsible for its 146,000+ students and 18,000 employees. Tuesday marked the first time he’d appeared publicly in Charlotte since being named to the top job last month.

Wilcox, 61, was affable and candid in his half-hour appearance before a collection of local media. He also spent time with the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, the regular gathering of west Charlotte leadership, and the Uptown Rotary Club.

Here are a few things we learned.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

1) Wilcox wants to connect with teachers. In fact, that’s the very first thing he talked about. He described how he spent 13 years as a classroom teacher, mostly in sixth-grade science.

2) Wilcox likes to use social media. He has an active Facebook page and the community regularly communicates with him on it in his current role as superintendent of schools in Washington County, Maryland. He’s also on Twitter, and appears to check it often. I mentioned him in a tweet and almost immediately got a like and a retweet.

3) He’ll continue some of the same emphases that CMS has had over the past few years. One of them is the notion of “every child.” Wilcox made it a point to say Tuesday that “Every child has dignity, and every child has worth.” The other is literacy. Current Superintendent Ann Clark constantly referred to literacy as the district’s “North Star,” and Wilcox listed it as his top priority.

4) Don’t expect big changes immediately. Wilcox was careful to say he doesn’t have deep knowledge of Charlotte yet, and said “I don’t know what i don’t know, and I’m conscious of that.” He said his first 90 to 120 days will be something of a listening and learning tour.

5) Wilcox believes in strengthening neighborhood schools. It’s a common refrain among parents, in both affluent and low-income areas: They want quality schools nearby for their kids. Wilcox said he supports that and thinks that’s why he was selected. “We have to operate from the perspective of all of our schools are great schools, and that every child has the opportunity to get a great education close to home,” he said.

6) He also believes in breaking up concentrations of poverty. The school board is in the middle of a long-term plan to do that, and Wilcox supports it. He said he does not have any experience doing so in previous jobs, but that he believes a solution can be reached in Charlotte. “It’s important for kids to go to school with people who are different from them,” he said.

7) He’s candid about bureaucracy. In response to a question about special education, Wilcox said that large school districts are known for being hard to work with and that parents get “buried in legalese” while trying to navigate the Individualized Education Program process.

8) We’ll be seeing more of him shortly. Wilcox said he plans to tender his resignation in Washington County either late this week or early next week. Beginning in mid-March, he’ll begin meeting regularly with community groups. By April or May, he said he hopes to have his permanent residence here — but he hasn’t decided on a neighborhood or part of town.

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Andrew Dunn
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