CMS board names Earnest Winston superintendent in unanimous vote

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officially has a new superintendent after the board of education voted unanimously Friday morning to select Earnest Winston.

Winston had been serving in an interim role since the suspension of Dr. Clayton Wilcox last month.

Winston is contracted for three years with an annual salary of $280,000 -- the same as Wilcox's first contract.

Winston has been the district’s chief community relations and engagement officer since 2017. He is a former journalist who joined CMS in 2004 as an English teacher at Vance High School, where he taught journalism and was an advisor to the school newspaper.

Winston joined the district’s communications department two years later and has served in a number of CMS executive leadership roles, including chief of staff from 2011-2017. He and his wife, Denise, have two children enrolled in CMS.

>> Education reporter Elsa Gillis has been tracking the leadership changes and will have more on what they will mean for your children on Eyewitness News.

“I am humbled and grateful to the board and the community for the trust placed in me. It is my honor and privilege to serve our community’s students, families, CMS employees and partners,” Winston said. “The district team is preparing to welcome students back for a smooth opening of schools on Aug. 26. We are moving forward together on our commitment to equity through our 2024 strategic plan. Our shared focus is on what matters most -- great teaching and learning for every student in every school.”

The CMS board held the special meeting where they voted on Winston on the same day Wilcox was set to officially resign.

Statement from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education August 2, 2019:

As a Board, we believe that our most fundamental duty is to make decisions that are in the best interests of our community’s students.

Guided by this belief, the full Board has extended an offer to Acting Superintendent Earnest Winston to lead Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Mr. Winston has accepted the leadership of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as Superintendent effective August 2, 2019.

Our decision was unanimous. Our vote today is reflective of our faith and belief in Earnest, his experience and his vision for moving forward together. We are thankful for Earnest’s trust in us because we have full trust in him and we believe the community does, too.

This trust has been earned by Earnest Winston’s strong experience, steady dependability, constant commitment to all children, deep belief in collaboration and a leadership style that puts listening first.

Superintendent Winston’s knowledge of the district, of this community, and his first-hand experience as a teacher and leader in our schools, equip him perfectly to lead our district.

We carefully considered the option to conduct a national search for our next Superintendent. We are called at this moment in our district’s history to keep moving forward confidently while providing the surety of experienced leadership. In the end, we prioritized a strong, steady guiding light already here in our community, saving all of us valuable time and resources. We believe this decision reflects the community’s desire for stability, for calm guidance and clear focus on what matters most – our students and their teaching and learning.

We know that we must keep moving forward together because none of us can be satisfied with the status quo. CMS must make good on a real commitment to equity and to the achievement of all of our students. We are confident that we are moving forward with the right work and in the right direction. Right now, our students, their families, our employees and the community must trust that we are also moving forward from a foundation of steady leadership.

Earnest Winston is the right leader to provide trusted, steady executive leadership. The CMS senior leadership team, learning community superintendents, principals, teachers and staff in place are talented and committed – they have our full confidence. We know that great things are ahead for our students, their families, our employees and the community in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

We are thankful for the leadership of Superintendent Winston. We look forward to welcoming students back to school on August 26 and we welcome the support of this community of our students, teachers, principals, schools and staff in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

This ushers in a new era for CMS.

Wilcox was chosen after an extensive nationwide search and the board paid a consultant to help.

Channel 9 has learned Thursday that the state Board of Education authorized Winston to serve in the role of superintendent of CMS.

"We decided for the stability and the continuity of things that are happening now he was the person," said CMS board chairperson Mary McCray. "With his 15 years of experience in the district and the many roles that he has had."

State Board of Education policy says a superintendent candidate must have the following:

A North Carolina principal’s license and superintendent’s license


At least a bachelor’s degree and five years relevant leadership or managerial experience


Verification of appropriate credentials by the N.C. State Board of Education before being hired by the local board of education. 

Winston has been with the district for 15 years and served in top administrative positions, most recently as the chief engagement officer and ombudsman.

He was the man who would hear concerns directly from parents, students and staff following Wilcox's resignation.

>> Reading this story in our app? The new "Follow the Lead" feature allows you to tap the blue tag indicated with a '+' to subscribe to alerts on the very latest breaking news updates. 

Channel 9's education reporter Elsa Gillis sat down with him one-on-one last week. He said he is ready to serve if he is chosen to take on the role permanently.

"Ultimately the decision lies with the board," Winston said. "What I would say is that I stand ready and willing to serve at the pleasure of the board."

As the new school year approaches, Winston told Channel 9 he's ready.

"I believe having stability during this time of leadership transition is extremely important," he said. "Right now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and continue on this magnificent journey making sure that all kids are educated and meeting their full potential."

Winston said he plans to listen before recommending any changes or improvements.

(Earnest Winston)

The superintendent job is big. Channel 9 researched how many big districts have hired superintendents with previous superintendent experience.

Of the most recently available data from the National Center for Education, eight of 20 of the largest districts hired superintendents with previous superintendent experience.

This includes Wilcox with CMS, but the majority of schools did not.

Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com: