In Rogue Threat, one of Anthony Tata's military potboilers, "hero Matt Garrett"—according to a Tata blog post—"confronts complacency and political infighting" as he tracks down Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which, by the way, did exist (stupid liberals) and will destroy America unless Tata, er, Garrett can stop them.
Wow, complacency and political infighting? Tata's subject in that post was "a seemingly hopelessly divided nation" unable to face up to its problems. But perhaps Tata was thinking as well about the seemingly hopelessly divided Wake County Board of Education and the putative five-member board majority that just hired him to be Wake's superintendent of schools, effective Jan. 31.
Talk about political infighting: The bloc of five conservative Republicans, ostensibly led by Board Chairman Ron Margiotta, has lately split into several parts, as Vice Chair Debra Goldman charts her own course on the crucial issues of student assignments, magnet schools and diversity or resegregation. Deborah Prickett looks to be charting a separate course, too, running frequent supply convoys to her personal harbor at Leesville schools, which she hopes to transform into neighborhood schools.
Thus, Captain Ron, his first mate John Tedesco and trusty crewman Chris Malone are adrift as they tack right, right, right, which means of course that they're going around in circles and getting nowhere. Meanwhile, the other side—the four-member, pro-diversity board minority—has held steady and invited Goldman aboard for peace talks.
Enough. With their naval command in tatters, the five conservatives turned to an Army man to save them, in the person of retired Brig. Gen. Tata, who fancies himself a school leader—when his busy schedule permits, that is.
Tata was hired sight unseen (by the public, anyway) in a hastily scheduled meeting two days before Christmas. Two of the four minority-faction members were absent. No matter. So was Tata. His debut in Raleigh will come this Thursday when he's scheduled to speak to the conservative Wake County Taxpayers Association, a fact that tickles its longtime president, former state Rep. Russell Capps.
Capps is best known, education-wise, for insisting that "creation science" be taught in the public schools as an alternative to evolution. By now, Tata is best known, education-wise, for ridiculing President Barack Obama's propensity for studying the issues ("an aloof Ivy League intellectual"). In a review of Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue, Tata declared Palin "far more qualified to be president of the United States than the current occupant."
Actually, being the rogue schools superintendent in Wake County appears to have been Tata's third career choice, after his 18-month stint in charge of the supply chain in the Washington, D.C., school system.
Other than writing his one-dimensional books, Tata weighs in occasionally with his one-dimensional analysis of war (it's heroic) on conservative blogs and Fox News. And last spring, Tata was in Hollywood trying unsuccessfully to peddle his novels, which feature real military heroes, only to find that producers preferred stories like the one told in Redacted; it's about an atrocity committed by a soldier in Iraq and the subsequent military cover-up. "Military movies may not be working because Hollywood presently refuses to capitalize on the real life heroes in combat every day," Tata wrote.
A few months later Tata was vying to win a three-month contract as a columnist with The Washington Post in the newspaper's "America's Next Great Pundit Contest." One piece he entered, "Military officers are accountable, too," decried the real-life atrocities of a military unit in Afghanistan that continued even after a soldier's father had reported them up the chain of command to the Army Criminal Investigation Command and a U.S. Senator's office. "How could so many avenues fail to help?" Tata's column wondered.
The outcome of the WaPo contest turned on readers' support. Tata tweeted frequently for votes, urging his followers to back him as a needed conservative voice in the newspaper. Despite endorsements from such eminent right-wingers as Karl Rove, Ann Coulter and Palin, Tata finished fifth in the readers' poll, behind a Georgetown University graduate student who got the gig.
It's clear why the conservatives hired Tata. After a year of looking like the gang that couldn't shoot straight, Margiotta's troops, and especially Goldman, who headed the search committee, needed someone who would provide the illusion of command and control, if not the actual marching orders. The board majority spent 2010 in futile pursuit of a new student assignment policy better than the good, pro-diversity policy they trashed en route to being elected.
Better they should get behind Tata's stated objective of lifting student performance across the board and closing the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged kids.
Progressives, on the other hand, are mostly holding their fire while they continue to court Goldman on student assignment issues.
Lois Nixon, an Army wife and a pro-diversity candidate for school board in '09—she lost to Goldman—is trying to look at the bright side. "General Tata spent 28 years in the Army, an organization that is fully integrated and diverse," Nixon says. "There are no poor neighborhoods on military posts, no segregated schools on military posts, no separate shopping or recreation areas or medical facilities." Tata, she says, "knows the value of a diverse organization, and can bring that value system to the Wake County public schools."
Still, Tata's qualifications for leading the Wake schools are scant. He completed a 10-month course in educational leadership at The Broad Center in Los Angeles, which is like being trained by Art Pope and the Civitas Institute in Raleigh to run the LA schools. His job in Washington, under the controversial schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, was to handle procurement, logistics and food service for a system with 45,000 students—compared to Wake's 143,000. His title of chief operating officer overstates his authority; when Rhee left, another subordinate replaced her.
Washington's public schools are notoriously bad, and Rhee, who's since resigned, was brought in to take names and fire bad teachers. Wake's schools are far superior, and the challenge of improving them is unlike anything Tata has undertaken. As Carolyn Morrison, a minority-faction board member who voted against hiring him, said, "He has had no experience with instructional leadership. I don't think General Tata would consider me qualified to be appointed as a brigadier general," said Morrison, a former school principal, "if I had only a short course [at Broad] and 18 months of experience in the military."