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DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson bemoans lack of “urgency” in State Board of Education

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson is bemoaning a lack of “urgency” in the State Board of Education, according to a Q&A today with WUNC’s Jess Clark.

Johnson’s comments to WUNC come with the superintendent and the board embroiled in a pending court case over the powers of Johnson’s office.

From WUNC’s transcript:

Q: How well do you think the state board is doing? Do you think the state board in touch, do you think that the state board is implementing the laws of the land, creating policies that are moving education forward in North Carolina?

A: I don’t feel the state board has the same sense of urgency I have. I respect them as individuals. They come from various different backgrounds; some come from education, some come from business; all care about students, all care about teachers, all care about what’s going on. You know, this department, the department of public instruction, just needs to be able to change more quickly to respond to the needs of the teachers and students out in the districts.

Q: At the end of this lawsuit, you and state board of education chairman Bill Cobey and all the members of the board will have to work together. What do you see that relationship looking like at the end of all this?

A: I do feel, even through all this, we are working together. Now, we have differences of opinions on my recommendations for who should help me run this department. But we all share the same vision, and that is: Every student should be able to go to school, work hard and reach their American dream. And we also know that we have to support teachers, we have to support principals, we have to engage parents in order to get there. I do not see this as something, regardless of how the lawsuit goes, that will interfere with us working towards that shared vision.

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

North Carolina lawmakers and the State Board of Education are set for a June court date to consider the legislature’s December move to dispatch greater hiring and firing powers to Johnson, a Republican who ousted longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson in November.

Lawmakers have also sought to allow for Johnson to make a few additional hires in recently-filed legislation as well as in the Senate budget, although state board Chairman Bill Cobey has been opposed.

Johnson touches on the hiring dispute in WUNC’s Q&A:

Q: You are now the head of this department, and you’ve said that you’d like to make changes in how the department is run. How would you like to run the department? What are the changes that you would like to see?

A: [Chuckles] Well, I’d like to be able to hire the top deputies that report to me, and I would like to make sure that I’m hiring people that are my recommendations and support my vision; the ultimate vision being: This department in Raleigh needs to be a place that is seen as a department that supports schools in the local districts, not tells schools what to do. Compliance is s huge part of the role of this department. However it shouldn’t be seen as, “We’re the compliance agency, we’re telling you what you have to do, no ifs, ands, buts about it, get it done.” It should be, “We’re the compliance agency. How can we help you comply?” There is work that needs to be done. From day one entering this department, I have had a temporary restraining order placed on me basically preventing me from hiring anyone except three or four people.

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