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As new superintendent settles in, major departures in North Carolina’s public schools office

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

North Carolina public school leaders announced the departure Thursday of a pair of major administrative officials under former state Superintendent June Atkinson.

The news comes as the newly-elected state superintendent, Republican Mark Johnson, settles into his role after defeating Atkinson in November.

Included among the departing staff is retiring Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland, a longtime state official under Atkinson who counts 30 years of work in education. Prior to becoming Atkinson’s second-in-command in 2014, Garland also served as the department’s chief academic officer and executive director for the State Board of Education.

A tearful Garland cited the state’s motto—”Esse quam videri,” which means “To be, rather than to seem”—while offering her closing comments to the state board Thursday.

“Saying ‘public education is the best choice’ is only a mantra if we don’t work at it,” Garland said. “It’s the role of this board and this department to make sure that it is strong and that it stays strong.”

Board Chairman Bill Cobey, meanwhile, complimented Garland’s “even-tempered approach to crises.”

“You are one of those people who has given your life to public education,” added Cobey.

In addition to Garland, officials also announced the departure of Rachel Beaulieu, DPI’s legislative director. Since 2013, Beaulieu has been a liaison for public school leaders at the N.C. General Assembly, at a time when many K-12 advocates say lawmakers have been openly adversarial with school officials.

Johnson has been mostly mum about any staff shake-ups in the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) since November, although he moved last month to make a few notable hires, including a pair of former staffers for ex-Gov. Pat McCrory.

The superintendent’s ability to choose or dismiss senior staff at DPI is another major point of contention in a pending legal battle as the State Board of Education challenges the General Assembly in court over their vote in December to consolidate more powers in the newly-elected Republican’s office.

Thursday’s announcements coincided with Johnson’s statements that he was beginning the first phase of his plans for major reforms, a listening tour starting at his former home district in Winston-Salem. Johnson was a local school board member and corporate attorney in Winston-Salem prior to his election.

Meanwhile, the superintendent, who has not agreed to an interview with Policy Watch since his election in November, has publicly stated that he plans to transform the state’s “outdated” public schools.

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