Strong Leadership, Strong Schools

Portrait of Ann Clark

Ann Clark ’80 grew up believing in the nobility of teaching.

Her grandparents started a tiny school to educate children in rural Virginia. Her grandmother was the teacher and her grandfather, a Presbyterian minister, was principal. 

“They ran the equivalent of a one-room schoolhouse in an area where schooling was limited,” Clark says. “I heard so much from my dad and my aunts about what extraordinary educators and trail blazers they were.”

A profoundly disabled older brother who died when she was five inspired her decision to become a special education teacher.

Clark also blazed trails as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (CMS) first woman superintendent. She now works with systems across America to improve student outcomes.

At CMS, Clark partnered with non-profits and the philanthropic community to launch Read Charlotte, focusing on early literacy. She’s since helped 18 states develop literacy strategies through collaborations among pre-K–12 educators, higher education institutes and legislatures.

She helps school systems with recruitment, retention, leadership and talent development efforts. 

“I grew up in a home where being a teacher was affirmed every day. Our young people are not getting that message very often now,” she says. “We have a national teacher pipeline crisis that’s leading to a principal pipeline crisis, and a district leadership crisis.”

Clark says strong schools start with strong principals, a role she held for 19 years. She received a National High School Principal of the Year award, and became an administrator supporting principals.

“A mediocre principal might recruit a great teacher, but won’t retain that teacher,” she says. “If you don’t have a principal who’s a highly effective leader in each of your schools, you’re setting yourself up for challenges in the recruitment and retention of highly effective teachers.

“We need to continually help people grow as educators. We need to make sure they are affirmed, challenged and compensated.”

“We need to continually help people grow as educators. We need to make sure they are affirmed, challenged and compensated.”

Amid the national shortage, she supports initiatives like teacher cadet programs for high school students and enlisting retired educators.

“We need to think differently and flexibly,” she says. “Be open to job sharing and other measures that will allow teachers to return on a part-time basis.”

Laura Rosenbach ’99 was a student teacher at a Charlotte high school when Clark was principal. Rosenbach returned as a teacher, became a principal, and now supervises other principals as a CMS area superintendent.

“Ann is an incredible educator and leads by example,” Rosenbach says. “As a principal, she never walked past a piece of trash on the ground without picking it up. She’d greet kids in the bus lot at 6:30 a.m. and cheer at the football game at 10 that night.

“Ann has always been about what’s best for students, and that means supporting good teachers and principals.”

Return to And Education for All: These public-school educators teach, lead, counsel, nurture, care.

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2023 print issue of the Davidson Journal Magazine; for more, please see the Davidson Journal section of our website.