Mostly White Private School Hires First Black Leader

Published July 28, 2009

A prominent private school in North Carolina has hired its first Black leader.

The Charlotte Observer reported Saturday that when Mark Reed took the helm of the 1,600-student Charlotte Country Day School on July 1, he became one of the few African Americans nationwide to lead private schools of its size. And according to the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools, he could be the first African American to head a predominantly white private school in the state.

But school officials say their pick was not about race.

"We hired Mark because he was in our view the best candidate out there, period, end of story," said school trustees chairman Watts Hamrick. He noted that when Reed's hiring was announced last November, faculty gave a standing ovation.

Reed, 44, came to Charlotte from Houston's St. John's School. In 19 years there, the former international track athlete rose from teacher and coach to assistant headmaster. He replaces Margaret Gregg, who retired after 17 years as Country Day's head of the school.

He leads a school where 89 percent of students — who pay up to $20,200 a year in tuition — and 90 percent of employees are White. By comparison, Mecklenburg County's population is 65 percent white.

But Reed is no stranger to such rarities. The newspaper reported he was the first Black male faculty member at St. John's.

"I will never forget the first time working with kids," Reed said, noting he quickly abandoned his plans for a career in medicine or physical therapy. "It was phenomenal — it felt like fun, and it didn't feel like work."

Former St. John's headmaster John Allman praised Reed's contribution as "impossible to overstate."

"Mark's guiding strength is building strong relationships of trust with people," said Allman, now at Trinity School in New York. "His is a relationship-based leadership. He inspires trust from the ranks and from people regardless of their position."

The son of Alabama natives, Reed grew up in Great Falls, Mont., attending public schools. His late mother was a teacher — as is his sister — while his late father played professional baseball in the Negro League.

Reed, who went to the University of Houston on a track scholarship, later competed internationally in the high jump.

Reed said he liked St. John's emphasis on excellence and accomplishment, regardless of race — which he likened to his sport.

"In high jump," he said, "you either cleared the bar or you didn't."

Founded in 1941, Country Day — which consists of two campuses totaling 117 acres — counts itself among the county's 10 largest private, coed, college preparatory schools.

Reed's hiring makes a "huge statement," said Orpheus Crutchfield, president of StrateGenius, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that helps independent schools develop minority teachers and administrators.

Minorities lead fewer than 100 of the 1,400 members of the National Association of Independent Schools.

In the last few decades, predominantly White private schools have tried to make their leadership, faculty and student bodies more diverse, Crutchfield said.

"It's very slow. It's glacial. But it is on an upward trend," he said.

Written by Associated Press

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