Andrew Tata, who served 19 months under former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and whose career track has mainly been aligned with the military, was recently selected to lead the Wake County, N.C. public school system.

The choice drew criticism in that community. Skeptics claim the 51-year-old generally lacks the educational background, classroom experience and skills for raising student achievement. His publicly stated pro-Sarah Palin, anti-President Obama stance has also raised concerns that he will spearhead efforts to re-segregate the 143,000-student school system located just outside Raleigh, N.C.

Tata’s selection to lead the nation’s 18th largest school district comes at a time when its six-member, majority Republican school board has been under scrutiny by the regional accrediting body and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The board’s efforts last year were largely focused on a promise to end the diversity-in-assignment policy that has prevented an unhealthy concentration of poor and minority students in some schools. ?
A press statement issued by the Great Schools in Wake Coalition shortly after Tata accepted his new job chastised the school board’s Republican membership for squandering “another chance” to demonstrate its leadership and build community consensus.

The board voted 4-2 on Dec. 23 to bring Tata aboard. A Democratic board member unsuccessfully tried to defer the vote until Jan. 4 to allow for parental comment.

The News & Observer reported that as one of the Republicans made the motion to nominate Tata, an audible “argh” came from a small crowd of the Coalition group. The same group reportedly cheered the Democratic board member after she read a statement opposing Tata.

The Coalition claimed that the public wanted an experienced leader from the academic realm as well as public engagement during the hiring process.

“Clearly these two desires of the public were ignored,” the Coalition’s statement read. “A field of one hundred applicants was narrowed to ten, then three finalists. At no point was the public invited to participate in the decision- making process.”

Meanwhile, Tata, who served as a brigadier general before retiring from the military, was scheduled to arrive in Wake County this week to begin meeting with the school board, teachers and the community.

While serving as DCPS’s chief operating officer, Tata—who has two Master’s degrees and spent nearly 30 years in the military—was responsible for food services, purchasing, technology and a range of other support functions involving the District’s 46,000-students. He also reportedly spent 10 months learning school administration through a Los Angeles-based nonprofit institute. ?
Tata said that while his trek into education has taken a non-traditional path, he remains confident he can handle the job.

“I am humbled to be selected as the next superintendent of the Wake County Public School System,” Tata said in a statement. “I intend to focus the system’s impressive resources on the academic achievement of our students and on closing the achievement gap in student performance.”

Tata added that one of his goals would be to energize all aspects of Wake County’s “large and complex” organization to operate at maximum capacity and minimum cost, in order to provide as many resources as possible into the classrooms.