North Carolina’s final budget this year may have included modest raises for teachers, but the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson renewed her calls Thursday for an improved “comprehensive teacher pay plan.”
Atkinson, speaking on a panel at an education conference organized by the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, again pitched her “wedding cake” teacher pay plan, which included competitive raises for teachers at the base.
The upper layers of the cake, according to Atkinson, would include additional sweeteners for designated teaching leaders in the school and others who step in to assist at low-performing schools.
Atkinson also talked of a $4.7 million investment in this year’s budget geared toward a statewide digital learning plan which provides support for teachers.
“All of these work together to show teachers that we value and respect them,” Atkinson said.
The conference brought together various education leaders, at the K-12 and university levels, as well as business leaders in the state.
Atkinson also touted state partnerships with business leaders such as a middle school work program that helps students learn the keys to being a good employee, as well as a teacher summer work program placing educators in businesses.
The latter program is used to help teachers develop lesson plans to make students job-ready, she said, with the goal of making every student graduate with work experience.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Atkinson added.
As expected, the theme throughout the morning and afternoon was students’ job-readiness, and a growing gap between educators and employers when it comes to expectations for future employees.
To that end, another of Thursday’s panelists, top UNC System advisor Peter Hans, pledged renewed cooperation between the system and the state’s community colleges system under new President Margaret Spellings, calling Spellings an “education reformer.”
Atkinson also pitched increased state spending on early childhood education in North Carolina, calling it “one of the best investments North Carolina can make.”
“For every dollar we invest in preschool, we see a return on that investment,” said Atkinson.
Thursday’s conference also included a panel of local school leaders who’ve won awards from state business leaders. The panel included Bobbie Cavnar, a Gaston County English teacher who was awarded the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s North Carolina Teacher of the Year.
Cavnar said the biggest inhibitor to classroom success in the state is a dearth of “basic, basic resources,” such as binders, markers and writing utensils. The state is also lacking so-called “wraparound resources,” such as guidance counselors to help address root causes of impoverished students’ struggles.
Melody Chalmers, a Cumberland County principal tapped as Wells Fargo’s Principal of the Year, said one of her greatest challenges is in hiring quality teachers, a frequent complaint about school leaders in recent years amidst reported teacher shortages.