CARY — Principals at eastern Wake schools start the new school year with a new boss.
The Wake County school board on July 23 voted to appoint Ed McFarland, principal of Fuquay-Varina High School, as the new Area Superintendent for eastern Wake County. Danny Barnes, who held the position for 14 years, retired June 30.
Area superintendents are direct supervisors of principals and act as liaisons between school leaders and the school board. Knightdale education advocate Shannon Hardy says area superintendents are “just as important as school board members” because they’re directly involved with teachers and classroom activities and are concentrated on a specific region of the county.
“That position wields significant influence over our schools,” Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen agreed.
Wake County schools are divided into seven regions: Central, Eastern, Northeastern, Northern, Southern, Southwestern and Western. The Eastern region includes most schools in Knightdale, Rolesville, Wendell and Zebulon.
McFarland has no professional experience in eastern Wake. But deputy superintendent Cathy Moore, who recommended McFarland for the job, said local teachers and parents should be encouraged by McFarland’s resume and enthusiasm.
“He’s taught at the elementary, middle and high school level,” Moore said. “It’s not often that you find folks with teaching and administrative experience at every level.”
McFarland has a reputation for pushing students to achieve high academic goals, and is used to working in a community with strong community roots, Moore added. “He has a track record of success,” she said.
McFarland, 46, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from UNC-Greensboro in 1990, and in 2000 returned to UNC-G where he earned a master’s degree in school administration. He’s also a licensed school administrator, music teacher and a curriculum instructional specialist. And in 2009, McFarland was a finalist for Principal of the Year in Wake County.
McFarland started his new role on Aug. 12. He says his goal is to visit each of the schools in his region within the month.
“My hope is obviously just to be an advocate between the schools and the community,” he said. “I think people will find that I’m generally easy to reach out to. I’m always willing to meet and talk with people.”
Local advocates say eastern Wake poses the most challenges of any region in the county. Schools in Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon have trailed behind the rest of Wake County in SAT scores and graduation rates. Meanwhile, eastern Wake schools have among the county’s highest percentages of students on the school system’s free- and reduced-lunch program. Transfer rates are high, too.
Shannon Hardy, a parent who leads Knightdale 100, an education advocacy group, believes McFarland can “make a difference” as long as he lives up to his reputation as a hard worker.
“It isn’t important whether or not he’s from eastern Wake. What matters is that he is able to work with teachers and encourage them,” Hardy said. “If he’s committed, if eastern Wake’s important to him, he’s gonna do a great job.”
Linda Johnson, a former school board member who now runs East Wake Education Foundation, said she, too, heard good things. “I understand he’s very talented,” she said.
Toshiba Rice, another local advocate, said she looked forward to working with McFarland. But Rice said she wished the school system consulted with local parents about McFarland – like they do with principals – before making the hire.
“I’m sure staff felt Mr. McFarland was the most qualified, but to have involved us would have been extremely helpful,” Rice said.