Incoming NC schools chief to WRAL: No thought to DPI staffing yet

Incoming DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

Incoming DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

Election Day included more than a few surprises this year, not the least of which being newcomer Mark Johnson’s victory over longtime Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Superintendent June Atkinson.

This week, WRAL has a fascinating report on how Atkinson’s taking the defeat. Meanwhile, Johnson isn’t offering up too many thoughts on how he’ll handle the new role and what changes can be expected at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

From WRAL’s report:

The night of the election, Johnson couldn’t sleep. Adrenaline kept his mind racing with all that was ahead. Not only did he need to move his family to a new city, he had to prepare for his new job overseeing a system with more than 1.5 million students and 180,000 full-time employees.

His mind has continued to race in the nights since.

“I’ve been sleeping more, but also now I kind of just pop up at 4:30 in the morning with ideas in my head that I just have to get out of bed and get on paper,” he said.

Johnson isn’t sharing what those ideas are just yet.

“Out of respect for the team (at the Department of Public Instruction), I would like to talk to them before presenting plans to the press,” he said.

It’s also unclear how he might handle some of the senior staff at the department. As superintendent, Johnson will have the power to dismiss or reassign dozens of people who are in exempt policymaking and exempt managerial positions. He said he hasn’t given any thought to staffing yet.

For now, Johnson says, he is trying to take things slowly and “be very deliberate and seek a lot of advice.” He still has several personal issues to take care of before January, including putting his Winston-Salem house on the market and searching for a new home in Raleigh.

“If you have any leads on houses,” he said, laughing. “We have to move to a brand new city where we don’t know the city. We have to learn the neighborhoods. Where do we want to live? And how close can I actually get a house to DPI so that I don’t spend too much time in the car so I can see my daughter at night?”

Johnson says he is still in awe of what happened on Election Day and what that means for his family.

“It’s one day that determines the future of your personal life,” he said. “It’s an experience that is unlike any other that, really, I don’t think anyone can know unless they run for office.”

Staffing at the key state department figures to be a major point to follow after Johnson, a Republican, takes over the post. During the campaign, Johnson was critical of the management of the state schools office, which has been troubled by legislative budget cuts in recent years.

As WRAL’s Kelly Hinchcliffe explained today, Johnson will have the power to dismiss a number of top DPI chiefs, although many dismissals would also require the backing of the State Board of Education.

Johnson’s experience is fairly limited in North Carolina public education. He’s a school board member in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools—the fourth-largest district in the state—and boasts two years of teaching experience at a Charlotte high school before becoming a corporate attorney.

Atkinson, a Democrat, has held the superintendent’s role since 2004. She is the first woman to hold the office in North Carolina history.

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