The Raleigh Public Record sat down with Wake County School Superintendent Tony Tata to talk about his one-year anniversary.
Record: Welcome to Oak City Voices. I’m Will Huntsberry and today we are talking to Superintendent Tony Tata. Thanks for talking to us.
Tata: Great to be here, Will.
Record: Today is your one-year anniversary on the job and when you came in here last year this school system was a pretty different place. There had been a split vote to hire you. There had been lots of trouble with the student assignment plan. What was your mindset coming in?
Tata: My mindset coming in was just to do the very best job I could leading the school district and helping the board become a unified governance team that inspires confidence in all stackholders. If you take a look at the AdvancEd report that has recently been released it says we sort of did that so far. We’re making good progress. I look forward to another year of making that kind of progress.
Record: Like you mentioned the AdvancEd report really backs up the fact that you’ve come in here and this administration has calmed the waters in a lot of ways and has the high schools back on track to be accredited. What was your strategy in doing that?
Tata: The high schools have always been accredited. We went from warned to advised status, which is an improvement in the oversight from AdvancEd, whom we pay to provide this oversight. And the strategy was to take the initial report back in March very seriously to cull through a lot of the language there that upset some people and then take a hard look at the seven required actions. We took each required action and said “what do we need to do to accomplish required action 1, 2, 3, all the way to seven. We had several required sub-actions that we then developed and we began working on them. We tasked them out. We closed the loop. We made sure that people were executing. What they came back with is that five of them were already completed and “two you’re working on.” One is the strategic plan, which is going to take another six, seven months to finish. I think, because you want it to be a community collaboration event. I feel like we’re on a good azimuth here.
Record: You mentioned checking off those boxes one-by-one and really getting in there. You also mentioned the language. What was the take away from how you could change the language that was being used?
Tata: I think, the language and the hyperbole and the passion that was being discussed over a year ago, we tried to funnel that into productive areas where we can actually take all that great energy that the parents and community advocates have and focus that on student achievement and on having a good assignment plan and make sure that we are moving in the direction that Wake County parents and students want us to go.
Record: Looking back over the past year, what’s your proudest moment so far?
Tata: My proudest moment is any time I’m in a school and I’m talking with teachers or students or principals and I just see what a fantastic job they are doing. There has been hundreds of those moments and I give all the credit to the principals and teachers for doing such a fantastic job.
Record: If getting down and meeting these people on a personal level has been the best thing, what has been the most challenging part?
Tata: I think, the challenging part is trying to make sure that everyday central office and myself, we are doing justice to the schools that are working so hard to provide the education everyday. Are we squeezing out every last ounce of our energy and getting the resources into the schools? That’s a daily challenge, because it is a resource-constrained environment.
Record: The new school board has been very impassioned in looking at this new choice assignment plan and there’s been some pretty lively debate at times. What has it been like working with the board specifically?
Tata: This is a good board and the last board was a good board. All nine board members come to the table representing their district. I enjoy working with the board. We have passionate discussions because we all care very deeply about the system. As long as they are respectful we’re in a good place, because those are the kind of discussions that school boards and superintendents and the public are supposed to have.
Record: Is there any disconnect then between what see on TV a lot, that really impassioned, lively discussion on the school board, versus what you see as superintendent going into schools and talking to people face-to-face. Can you bridge the gap between those two worlds for me a little bit?
Tata: Yea, sure. Part of my job is to shelter and buffer the 165 schools we have so that the principal and the staff can focus on teaching and learning and by doing that we are able to contain our discussions or at least the goal is to contain these discussions at the board and superintendent, leadership team level so they have no to minimal impact on schools.
Record: A long, distinguished military background in your career Superintendent Tata- and I know that you were with D.C. schools before you were here- but talk to me a little bit about what that transition has been like?
Tata: It’s been a great transition, because when you look at it the Army is one of the great teaching and learning institutions in the country and the structures are very, very similar. You have remote Army bases all around the country or all around the world and you have the pentagon, which is like central office, and then you pump out different curriculum that you have to train soldiers on. You take this standardized curriculum and you train people to teach that and there are people that are qualified teachers or trainers and they train our soldiers. It’s very similar to having central office, having 165 schools and making sure that every principal and all teaching staff are getting the curriculum they need and the support they need. It’s quite frankly all about leadership and understanding in a very tactile way- which is why I’ve been at 165 schools now- what this library or media center needs or understand what the teachers in Rolesville Elementary, where we are now, need. I take that back and I go back and I talk to my leadership team and we try to get the resources forward to the folks. There’s no difference than this or when I was in Afghanistan with 91 forward operating bases continuously doing battlefield circulation, as we called it, and making sure that the troops had what they needed to carry out their mission. Here, I’m just making sure that my principals and teachers have what they need to carry out their mission.
Record: How long could you see yourself staying in Wake County then Superintendent Tata?
Tata: I want to be here as long as long as the parents and students and citizens of Wake County want to keep me here.
Record: You’ve been watching Oak City Voices and thanks for talking to us Superintendent.
Tata; Thanks for having me, Will.