Schoolteacher, DPI insider blast Superintendent Mark Johnson’s destructive layoffs

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Forsyth County public school teacher Stu Egan has a fine new entry on his Caffeinated Rage blog about state schools superintendent Mark Johnson’s latest purge at the Department of Public Instruction. In “The State Superintendent Meets With Privatizers on Monday, Then 40 People Were Laid Off at DPI on Friday,” Egan points out that the firings (and the elimination of 21 other positions) were both especially treacherous for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is that they targeted staffers dedicated to helping low performing schools.

Egan’s post is definitely worth your time — as is the comment that appeared on Egan’s site (and that appears below — with paragraph breaks added for clarity) from an anonymous DPI insider:

Thanks for your article. It is worse than you know. I lost many colleagues and friends on Friday, folks who served the State of North Carolina well and did a good job for DPI and for schools across the state. What a shame.

Superintendent Johnson wrote us Friday afternoon and said we should ‘be sensitive to their situations during this time.’ Yeah, I’m sensitive…mad as hell that they’ve been canned for no good reason. Yes, those of us who are left at DPI continue to reel from this Superintendent’s lack of interest/support and total disregard of our work. All semblances of leadership from him and ‘his team’ are vacant and absent.

Speaking of which, he regularly refers to ‘his team’, which are the folks he has hand-picked to come on board in key leadership positions. WE, the hundreds of others who were here before he arrived and hopefully will remain when vacates, are supposed to be ‘his team’; it’s an insult to all of us every time he mentions it.

Know how many years of NC public school teaching experience ‘his team’ has? 30? 40? 50?Try ‘four’. Yes, that’s right, a total of four years NC schools teaching experience among them. He taught for two years with Teach for America, as did his recently hired ‘senior policy advisor’. Good grief; just enough to get those college loans paid off. I myself have more NC schools teaching experience than that. The rest have never set foot in a public school as either a teacher or administrator.

Johnson never meets with division directors or attends division meetings. He never sits in on agency preparations for monthly State Board of Education meetings. He doesn’t even occupy the Superintendent’s Office, the space dedicated in the building for the leader of public education in North Carolina. In March 2017, he squirreled out of there and into the less-accessible and less-visible office space traditionally occupied by the Deputy Superintendent. The once-venerated and dedicated office space is now occupied by the “Superintendent” of the absurd “Innovative School District”. Remember how many schools are in that ‘district’? That’s right: ONE. So that space is occupied by someone who is overseeing ONE school. You can’t make this stuff up.

There are no quarterly meetings with local superintendents from across the state, so he doesn’t have to hear from the education leaders who really know what’s going on in their public schools. Did he fight for our budget cuts to be rescinded? Of course not. The State Board of Education BEGGED him to get on board with a plea to the General Assembly and he consistently refused, only tepidly signing on at the very end and with zero leadership or energy behind it.

Last summer, Johnson cancelled our one annual agency gathering where employees get to see each other all together, get some words of encouragement, and recognize those who have worked 20, 25, 30 years and beyond. The space was free and the only expense was refreshments, which we would have gladly foregone. He hid behind budget cuts as the reason. And no, we’re not having it this year either (not that any of us are in the mood to celebrate).

There are so many of us who have dedicated our professional careers to supporting schools for the success of students (and that success has markedly increased over the past 15 years in terms of higher graduation, lower dropouts, better test scores, etc.) but our once-proud agency is being destroyed from within. Lots of us worked for many years in public schools before coming to DPI, seeing the move as another way to serve and support. And that’s exactly what we try to do every day; their success and their struggles are ours, too. Unfortunately, we have a Superintendent and his staff who don’t get that and are doing all they can to make sure we fail so that vouchers, charters and other private or pseudo-private ventures can get more and more tax dollars.

Voters in NC: you clearly made a big mistake. He has no interest in running this agency. He should do us all a favor and resign to ‘spend more time with his family’ and get some plum lawyer job like he had before; meanwhile let the Governor or the State Board of Education (who really do believe in public education) appoint an interim who actually wants to engage, lead and manage the agency that oversees the provision of PUBLIC education in North Carolina.

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