Head of Delaware’s largest school district takes Virginia post

Listen 2:07
Merv Daugherty (right), outgoing superintendent of Red Clay Consolidated School District, was recently interviewed on WHYY's

Merv Daugherty (right), outgoing superintendent of Red Clay Consolidated School District, was recently interviewed on WHYY's "First" newsmagazine program by reporter Cris Barrish. (WHYY file)

In the Red Clay Consolidated School District, Delaware’s largest, one man has been an omnipresent force for the last decade.

He’s superintendent Merv Daugherty, who has created and nurtured innovative programs that has helped his Red Clay district to keep and attract students while other upstate districts lose them to charter schools.

But now he’s leaving for a vastly larger district near Richmond, Virginia.

While Red Clay has 17,300 students, Daugherty will soon lead Chesterfield County Public Schools, which has more than 58,000 students in 62 schools for kindergartners through 12th graders.

A large yet unassuming man with a perpetual smile, Daugherty has made it his mission to attend most all Red Clay events — whether a football game, recital or family night. And once he arrives, he can usually be seen chatting amiably with and listening to everyone he encounters.

“He’s fabulous,’’ Red Clay board member Adriana Bohm said. “He knows everyone from all walks of life, and different ages, black people, white people, Latinos, Asians. He knows them by name and he goes up and asks about their family and their kids. I think he’s really genuine.”

Daugherty, who has been with Red Clay for 18 years and been an assistant principal, principal and administrator before becoming superintendent nine years ago, has also been successful.

He’s created niche programs like culinary arts or early college academy at traditional high schools while overseeing top-performing institutions like Conrad Schools of Science and Cab Calloway School of the Arts. He’s been planning a high school solely for kids with drug addiction.

But he knows more needs to be done by his successor when he leaves Nov. 1.

“In education you are never finished,’’ Daugherty told WHYY. “We’re really working hard to address the issues that come from poverty and trauma and we still have a lot to do. I know the district is going to keep pushing this issue.

“We’ve done a lot to make a really strong school system and I’m really proud of that. I want my legacy to be that I really cared about the kids coming to the schools.

Bohm, a frequent district critic before she became a board member, said Daugherty was always willing to work toward a solution.

“He listens to criticism and takes criticism very well and I think he goes back and thinks about a better way we could introduce something or roll something out. Merv and I don’t always agree on everything but we have really frank and candid conversations. I really, really respect him.”

The board meets next month to discuss plans for hiring a successor.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal