North Carolina is getting a new state superintendent.
Current superintendent Mark Johnson, elected in 2016, will vacate his position as he runs for lieutenant governor. Seven North Carolina educators – two Republicans and five Democrats – aim to replace Johnson, with each party’s primary set for March 3 (early voting is underway). The state superintendent heads North Carolina’s public education and sets statewide education policy throughout four-year terms.
The Citizen Times asked how each candidate, if elected, would address deficiencies in rural education and overall teacher esteem. Candidate responses have been condensed to meet 100-word limit.
Meet the candidates
Craig Horn (R): Currently represents District 68 (Union County) in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Chairman of the House Education Committee & the House Education Appropriations Committee.
Catherine Truitt (R): Serves as chancellor of Western Governor University North Carolina, an online higher education program. Former K-12 school teacher and education advisor to former Gov. Pat McCrory.
James Barrett (D): Serves on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. Works as a program manager for Lenovo.
Constance Lav Johnson (D): Owns CityPolitical magazine. Former K-12 school teacher and administrator.
Michael Maher (D): Assistant dean of professional education at N.C. State. President of the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators and vice chairman of the N.C. Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission. Former K-12 school teacher.
Jen Mangrum (D): An associate professor at the UNC Greensboro School of Education. Former K-12 school teacher.
Keith Sutton (D): Chair of the Wake County Public Schools board of education. Runs an education consulting firm.
‘Dire’ rural education
The Question: Researchers recently called North Carolina’s rural education “a dire situation that needs urgent attention at the state and community levels.” Many Western North Carolina students attended rural schools. As State Superintendent, what would you do to improve rural education?
Horn: “In order to attract and retain high quality teachers in our rural and sometimes most challenging schools, we need to be able to offer the teachers more than just money.
“I would get out there. Be visible. Be in the rural classrooms. Work with the community to generate broad public support for the education process in rural communities. Generate some enthusiasm. That’s probably my strongest suit. I’m not a desk guy. I’m going to be out there. I’m not moving to Raleigh. I’m going to be in schools and LEAs and at PTA meetings.”
Truitt: “Rural schools need more funding to better serve their students. The local funding is dependent upon the tax base of the county, therefore low-wealth counties receive considerably less than their wealthier counterparts. Rural schools need more school resource officers, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.
“By allocating dollars for more school support positions in small and low wealth counties as well as altering the way counties distribute funding based on their tax base, we can create a more equitable system that meets the needs of all children while still being fiscally responsible.”
Barrett: “The biggest takeaway I had from my leadership development work from the NC Rural Center was that to be successful, rural communities need to focus on assets more than what they don’t have. Our schools can be great partners in these efforts and an asset for many communities.
“We need to deliver education that is meaningful to students in that community and be willing to share resources (physical, collaborative work, and leadership) for the benefit of our students and the community. From the state office, we must ensure proper resources based on student needs in all schools across the state.”
Johnson: Has yet to respond to requests for comment.
Maher: “For North Carolina to be successful we must ensure that children in rural North Carolina have the access and opportunity to the high quality public education they are constitutionally entitled to. For this reason, I launched my campaign focused on Equity, Excellence, and Innovation. To achieve our goal I have proposed accountability reform, advocacy for essential services and personnel, and the development of programs that will have an immediate impact on children.
“Our success depends on ensuring that every child in North Carolina has the access and opportunity to be successful in college, career, and life.”
Mangrum: “Three of my goals are expansion of educational opportunities (Birth-12th), facility improvements, and equitable distribution of resources so that rural districts can make the best decisions for their unique context.
“Expanding access to high quality pre-k is important, but in addition, I will put initiatives in place that help new parents develop early literacy environments at home. I will advocate for adequate facilities to teach trades such as welding, carpentry, or agriculture.
“Finally, I will grant rural districts the autonomy to make decisions that address their unique needs. One size does not fit all.”
Sutton: “According to a recent article in Education Dive, “North Carolina and Alabama are tied for second in terms of having the greatest needs among students in rural areas…”. I have developed a Rural Education Agenda [which includes]:
“Provide an additional state appropriation to rural districts to address challenges such as teacher recruitment and retention. Identify opportunities to expand and deepen investments in technology. Enhance efforts to expand broadband access, including district- owned or leased cell towers and internet networks.
“Support a continued focus on early childhood education. Expand digital/distance learning to improve access to rigor.”
Raising the teaching profession
The Question: Some North Carolina teachers say they no longer advise young professionals to become teachers. Protests over pay and stalled budgets have become common. As State Superintendent, what would you do to improve the reputation and esteem of the teaching profession?
Horn: “Generally speaking, people don’t change careers over money. We need to be able to provide the support necessary to attract and retain high quality teachers. Teachers need to be provided opportunities to advance their careers through such things as Advanced Teaching Roles Initiative which is something I helped develop and put into action in the General Assembly.
“I’ve never known a professional did not want to improve their skill set. I can improve opportunities for skill set improvement, further professionalizing the teaching core which is already professional, I can advocate for incentives and rewards.”
Truitt: “I must respectfully disagree with the premise of this question. Protests have not become common; they are few and far between. Teachers are no doubt frustrated by the legislature and Governor’s inability to reach agreement but there are many reasons why some teachers may advise young people not to enter the teaching profession.
“One step we could take that would improve teacher morale is to revise the A-F school grading system. When a teacher works hard everyday and grows a class significantly, but is measured almost solely on whether or not the class met achievement, it is demoralizing for students and teachers alike.”
Barrett: “Respect is about more than money, although that is needed as well to attract and retain the best teachers. It stems from great leadership in every building, it is supported by policies that treat teachers as the professionals we claim they are, and it embraces change through professional development and new ways of working that benefit students.
“I have a track record in ensuring all these conditions are met in my local district and as superintendent will ensure these conditions are improved across the state because we know without high quality teachers, we won’t have successful schools.”
Johnson: Has yet to respond to requests for comment.
Maher: “Accountability reform will allow us to identify examples of excellence throughout our state that extend beyond standardized test scores. Visits to schools will no longer be used to highlight the travels of the Superintendent, but rather to highlight the excellent work of educators. Reestablishing the respect for the profession begins with demystifying the work of educators.
“Teaching is complex work, practiced by professionals and we need to assist the public in understanding this. Through this process of highlighting and sharing success stories, despite the obstacles, we can change the narrative and esteem of the profession.”
Mangrum: “Pay teachers a competitive salary compared to other college graduates! Provide resources, materials and textbooks needed for quality instruction. Ground educational policy in classroom practice instead of forcing top-down mandates.
“Trust educators and educational professionals to make instructional decisions. Treat educators as professionals. For instance, instead of logging hours sitting in a building to make up snow days, allow teachers to plan, grade and collaborate via technology. Listen to teachers.
“Respect the expertise, knowledge and skills a credentialed educator brings to the profession. Put an experienced educator as State Superintendent!”
Sutton: “As state superintendent, my plan for building respect for the education profession is built upon the premise that we must dramatically transform the ways in which we support, compensate and promote teachers. We will need to be open to new ideas and be both flexible and innovative as we explore new paths for how we recruit and prepare teachers, increase salaries for teachers, and provide opportunities for advancement for teachers.
“Within the first year of my administration, I would like to work with NCAE leadership to establish a series of teacher-led working groups on each of these three key areas.”
Brian Gordon is the education and social issues reporter for The Asheville Citizen Times. He can be reached at [email protected], at 828-232-5851, or on Twitter at @briansamuel92.
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