Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who Is Anthony J. Tata?

Because, unfortunately, the Wake County School Board chose to conduct the superintendent search in complete secrecy and with no opportunities for public input, the question on the minds of most of the Wake County public is, "Who IS Anthony J. Tata?"  There are three major aspects of his life that have mostly come to our attention:

  1. He is a retired Army Brigadier General and a West Point graduate with a distinguished military career, including a deputy commander stint in Afghanistan;
  2. After a 10 month training program, he became head of operations (which covered supplies, facilities, technology, and food services) in the DC Public School system, where he served for 19 months;
  3. He is a conservative writer and commentator for such conservative media outlets as Fox News and Breitbarts Big Hollywood blog (the blog that edited the speech by Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod to make it sound like she was racist, when the entire video showed her statements were not racist at all).
It is the later two points that are issues of contention among the concerned constituency.  There hasn't been a lot of talk--yet--about Tata's record with the DC Schools (more on that tomorrow).  There has been considerable concern, however, that someone with less than one year of training in educational administration and less than two years of actual experience working in a school system--and in a completely non-academic capacity--are not sterling criteria for running the 17th largest school system in the country.

But perhaps even more debate has taken place over Tata's conservative positions on TV and print.  He has criticized President Obama multiple times on various issues, and has stated his support for such conservative candidates as Sarah Palin (whom he called "much more qualified to be president of the United States than the current occupant of the White House") and Tea Party activist Christine O'Donnell (who know...the one who denied that the First Amendment required separation of church and state and who knew she opposed a lot of the liberal Supreme Court decisions, except she just couldn't think of anything in particular).  Such statements by Tata has generated a rerun of the presidential election of 2008 (or a preview of 2012?) among the letters to the editor in last Sunday's News and Observer.

However, before we all jump to conclusions, let's let the man speak for himself.  I found this clip from his appearance on the NBC Today show:

While this is really mostly a puff piece, I think he comes across as sincere and a
pretty nice guy.

Next, we can look for his statement about his life and his qualifications that was posted on the Wake County Public School System website.  He makes a legitimate point that being in the Army involves a lot of different educational experience, albeit at the secondary and postsecondary level.

Here is a link to his review of Sarah Palin's book, which is where he explains why he thinks she is more qualified to lead the country than is President Obama.  I don't happen to agree with his reasoning, but at least he also has nice things to say about Hillary Clinton.  In fact, it seems that his support for all three women--Palin, Clinton, and O'Donnell--is based on their decisiveness and assertiveness.

This gives us some clues about what he will respond to as School Superintendent.  However, it also raises some concerns that he will give educational deliberation its due.  Let's hope that he realizes this might be a blind spot for him, particularly within an educational institution, and doesn't always jump to action without consideration for the complex and interrelated factors involved in such a diverse system as we have in Wake County.  And, on the upside, the man is obviously not a sexist.

But at least these primary sources give us some insight into the man who will be running our school system in February 2011.

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