The majority of new Wake County Superintendent Anthony Tata's questions at a Friday news conference focused on his view of school diversity and his time as a political pundit.
As noted in today's article, Tata faced some pretty pointed questions as he asserted he's his own man. He also praised neighborhood schools and questioned how well low-income students were helped by Wake's diversity policy.
Initially, Tata said he's still getting more information on the role of diversity in Wake's schools. But that didn't stop him from getting multiple questions to get him to flesh out his views.
“The school system’s primary objective is to increase student achievement and produce students who can compete internationally on the world stage,” Tata said three times when asked if it’s the school system’s responsibility to facilitate diversity.
Going into more detail, he questioned whether kids who've been bused for diversity in Wake have seen as much academic growth as those who have not.
“I’m not avoiding the answer,” Tata said. “What I’m telling you is we have to look at what’s best for these students and if what we’re trying to do is create a diverse environment and we’re not concerned about their student achievement, that’s not something I’m interested in.”
Tata was asked if he felt constrained to speak out based on the disciplinary action the board majority had taken against Del Burns for his public comments.
Tata said he had made it clear to the school board that he wouldn’t be afraid to speak out on school issues.
“I’m my own man and I’m not going to toe anyone’s line except the one that increases student achievement...” Tata said. “Anybody who thinks I’m in their pocket has got another thought coming."
Tata said that neighborhood schools “are working” in Washington D.C., where he’s been the school district’s chief operating officer for the past 19 months.
“It’s possible to have good strong neighborhood schools when you have good resourcing,” he said.
Tata added that challenged schools can succced if they have good principals and good teachers.
Much of the remaining news conference focused on his time as a commentator on Fox News and as a blogger on conservative websites.
Tata was questioned about the message it sent for him to criticize President Obama, the commander-in-chief. He was also asked what message it sent to the students about going to the Ivy League and being intellectual after having called Obama an “aloof Ivy League intellectual."
The questions bristled Tata at one point, with him accusing the media of wanting to take away his free speech rights. Tata said he didn’t want to focus on the past as he defended his rights to make those comments.
“This is America and people have free speech,” Tata said. “People ought to be able to say what’s on their mind.”
But Tata also appeared to indicate that he would stop being a political pundit when he starts in Wake on Jan. 31.
“I’m going to be superintendent of Wake County schools 24/7, 365 days a year,” Tata repeatedly responded when asked if he was going to stop being a political commentator.
Some skeptics wondered whether Tata was leaving an out for himself by not simply answering yes or no to that question.
One other point where Tata seemed to get the most peeved was when he was questioned about allegations of mismanagement in the agency he used to lead that had a $4.5 billion budget to develop ways to help protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices. Tata said you should ask the soldiers out in the field, including those whose lives have been saved by the group's work.