School & District Management

Retired General Takes Over Wake Schools

By Christina A. Samuels — December 27, 2010 2 min read
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Anthony J. Tata, a retired brigadier general with 28 years of military experience and 19 months under his belt as the chief operating officer of D.C. public schools, has been chosen to be the next superindentent of the 143,000-student Wake County district in North Carolina. He will start Jan. 31.

Wake County is the largest district in North Carolina, and the 18th largest district in the country. The district has been growing steadily over the last two decades.

The school board was split on Tata, a graduate of West Point. But after the Dec. 23 vote, the two dissenting board members promised to join the four members who supported Tata and move forward.

Tata, whose last name is pronouced TAY-ta, is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, which in just eight years has made a major impact on the ranks of the nation’s largest school districts. The 10-month training program, which accepts people with non-traditional professional backgrounds like Tata in addition to candidates with education backgrounds, has placed 88 people in district leadership positions. Fifty-one of them have education backgrounds, 17 have non-traditional backgrounds, and 20 had a mix of educational and non-education professional experience.

People sometimes complain that their superintendents are a blank slate prior to joining a district, but Tata has been more outspoken than most. A profile of him written for the The Washington Post mentions his work as a writer of military thrillers and a commentator for Fox News. In a warmly positive review of Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue, Tata wrote that Palin “is far more qualified to be president of the United States than the current occupant of the White House.” And Tata also joined an online “Next Great Pundit” contest sponsored by the Post, writing nine columns before being eliminated.

In the Post profile, he said, “I’ve spent a career defending everybody’s right to free speech, so I figured I’d take advantage of it a little bit.”

The school board has said that Tata will be allowed to continue his pundit work if he chooses, as long as he does it on his own time and represents himself as a retired general, not as the school superintendent.

“He has a past outside of the school district,” said school board Chairman Ron Margiotta in an article in the Raleigh News and Observer. “That’s different from what we’re used to, but people want to hear from him because of that past.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.