CMS names interim superintendent

CHARLOTTE — On Tuesday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board unanimously voted to name Crystal Hill as interim superintendent.

Hill is currently the district’s chief of staff and has served that role since May 2022. She oversaw Title IX work as chief of staff. Hill also served as a liaison between the board of education and CMS executive-level staff.

“Dr. Hill has the skills we need to keep the train on the tracks, and in fact to increase momentum towards improving student outcomes,” said Elyse Dashew, chair of the school board, in a news release.

In April, the School Board voted to fire former Superintendent Earnest Winston. The board cited “serious mishaps” under his leadership.

Hugh Hattabaugh took over as interim superintendent for the 2022-2023 school year on April 25. His contract was set to go through June 2023.

But on Dec. 9, Hattabaugh announced that he would be steeping down effective Dec. 31.

This announcement came just eight months after his tenure began.

Hattabaugh said he was leaving early than expected because his 98-year-old father was experiencing health issues. The district started looking for another short-term replacement. But they began soliciting feedback on the qualifications for the full-time superintendent as well.

Hill began her 25-year career in education as a first-grade teacher in Guilford County.

“Serving as interim superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a responsibility that I do not take lightly or for granted. It’s often said ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’, and in this role, I remain committed to making the best decisions on behalf of our students, their families, staff and this entire community,” Hill said in a news release.

She then served in various roles including assistant principal, principal and as executive director of elementary education and federal programs in Mooresville Graded School District. Hill was also the curriculum coordinator in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and personnel director in Cabarrus County.

She currently serves on the Leading on Opportunity Council and in 2020, co-chaired the North Carolina State Board of Education Literacy Task Force.

Hill has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in instructional technology, both from North Carolina A&T State University.

She also earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Gardner-Webb University.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Hill said Tuesday. “I am focused on the day to day operations to make sure that we’re doing is what’s best.”

Hill’s contract begins Jan. 1, 2023 and ends June 30, 2023. Her salary will be $260,000 a year.

Hill secured an endorsement from Amanda Thompson, the president of the local branch of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

“Even the work she did prior to coming to CMS prepared her, considering that she has been in the classroom, she’s had a leadership position,” Thompson said. “So I think that work prepared her for what she’s doing now.”

The search for another superintendent

Leading the state’s second largest district will likely still be a challenge.

Issues during the first semester have ranged from school safety concerns to the impact of learning loss and chronic absenteeism among students.

Solutions to that and more will be Hill’s priority until the board hires a permanent superintendent.

“I do want a search,” Thompson said. “I do think that we have to look high and low for that leader who is going to be transparent. Who’s going to be a communicator. Who understands equity. Who also understands you have to listen and value.”

Hill made it clear that, for now, staying in the role permanently isn’t a focal point.

“We’ll be recommending our budget,” Hill said. “There’s a bond referendum -- the comprehensive student assignment, so, too many things to be focused on, not necessarily focused at all on my next career move.”

Civility Localized, a consulting firm founded in 2018 by Christine Edwards, is helping CMS find its next superintendent.

The company specializes in research and community engagement.

Company officials created and sent out an eight-question survey in late September for community stakeholders to fill out.

Early findings indicated that the people’s top priority was student performance and closing both the student achievement and opportunity gaps.

People also cited qualities, such as strong interpersonal and communication skills as well as demonstrating commitment to working with diverse organizations and groups.

But Colette Forest, a community activist and mother to a CMS high schooler, said there is a healthy pessimism as to whether the community feedback will influence the search.

The results of the survey were presented to the school board on Dec. 13.

VIDEO: Interim superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh

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