Education

Republican lawmaker weighing a run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

State Rep. Craig Horn

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican from Union County who chairs several education committees in the General Assembly, created a week-ending buzz when he told WRAL-TV that he’s considering a run for State Superintendent.

Horn told the station that he’d been thinking about running for superintendent for several weeks after being asked by educators and community members from both sides of the aisle to consider a run for the seat.

In an interview with Policy Watch, Horn, 75, confirmed he is weighing a run for State Superintendent but expressed concern about a lengthy, expensive campaign in what he believes will be a toxic political environment in 2020.

“When you get into these long campaigns and bruising primaries, inevitably it gets personal,” Horn said. “That just doesn’t hold much allure to me.”

The State Superintendent’s seat is currently held by Republican Mark Johnson who has not announced whether he plans to seek reelection.

Horn said he asked Johnson if he planned to seek reelection.

“He told me he hadn’t decided or maybe it was he wasn’t ready to announce,” Horn said. “He didn’t reveal his plans to me.”

Horn said its “more likely” that he will run for superintendent if Johnson does not seek reelection and “less likely” he will if Johnson does.

Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte educator who blogs about education issues, wasted little time attacking Horn’s legislative record after hearing rumors that Horn might run for State Superintendent.

Here’s what Parmenter said about Horn in a tweet:

Most recently, Parmenter has been critical about Horn’s support of virtual Pre-K for four-year-olds.

Horn expects to face criticism about not being an educator.

“I see why people would believe the superintendent should be an educator, but I can tell you from my own experience that when you run an organization you surround yourself with really smart people,” Horn said. “You motivate them, support them and get out of their way.”

Horn noted that North Carolina has 1.8 million students, more than 100,000 teachers and a $10 billion K-12 education budget.

“That sounds like a management challenge to me, not a classroom teacher challenge,” said Horn, who served in the Air Force and was a food broker and businessman before being elected to the state House in 2010.

Horn said he believes the superintendent should have the support of teachers. There are pockets of discontent teachers across the state who are hyper-critical of Johnson.

“We have great teaching going on in North Carolina and great teachers,” Horn said. “Teachers have got to feel like someone has their back.”

Horn is the first Republican to announce interest in running for state superintendent.

Meanwhile, six Democrats has announced plans to run for the seat.

The six announced candidates are:

  • Educational consultant and former teacher Amy Jablonski of Raleigh,
  • Charlotte educator and activist Constance Lav Johnson,
  • Wake County school board member Keith Sutton,
  • Michael Maher, assistant dean for professional education and accreditation at the College of Education at NC State University,
  • James Barrett, a Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member, and
  • Jen Mangrum, a clinical associate professor in the School of Education at UNC-Greensboro who ran for a seat in the legislature last year against Senate leader Phil Berger.

The filing deadline for the state superintendent’s seat is Dec. 20. Primaries will be held March 3, 2020, followed by the General Election Nov. 3, 2020.

Education

Keith Poston resigns leadership post at Public School Forum of NC  

Keith Poston (center) is stepping down as executive director of The Public School Forum of NC, effective Oct. 31. Poston is shown here at a recent forum for the six Democratic candidates who have announced plans to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Public School Forum of NC (PSFNC) announced Wednesday that Keith Poston, president and executive director of the agency, will resign his post effective Oct. 31.

According to a press release, Poston is stepping down to focus on personal family matters.

Michael Priddy, immediate past chairman of the Forum’s Board of Directors, will serve as the nonprofit agency’s acting president and executive director.

“We appreciate Keith’s [Poston] more than five years of service to the Forum and wish him well,” said  PSFNC Chairman Tom Williams.

Williams added: “Priddy’s experience with the Forum and his extensive leadership experience will assure the Forum’s great work will continue as we begin the search for a new executive director who will carry on the Forum’s legacy of advocating for strong public schools across North Carolina.”

An announcement soliciting applications for the Forum’s next executive director is forthcoming, Williams said.

Here’s a statement Poston posted on social media:

As has been reported I have resigned from the Public School Forum. I love the organization and remain deeply committed to its mission, but I need to focus on my family right now. Here is the statement I’ve shared:  It has been the greatest honor of my professional life to serve as the leader of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, but there are personal family matters I need to focus on right now. My belief and commitment to the issues including advocating for public education and our amazing teachers, supporting our state’s most vulnerable children and advancing racial equity is unwavering. There is too much work yet to do in this state and in this country for me to ever stop doing my part.

Education

NC Policy Watch to host Charlotte Crucial Conversation on future of school integration

Join us Wednesday, October 30 for a very special and timely Charlotte Crucial Conversation luncheon:

The future of school integration in North Carolina

Featuring:

Click here to register.

It’s been nearly a half-century since the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark unanimous ruling in the case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which it affirmed U.S. District Court Judge James McMillan’s ruling that directed CMS to affirmatively integrate its public schools.

Since that time, of course, the combination of subsequent court rulings, new state laws and new local policies have served to undermine and erode the promise of Swann. Today, tragically, genuine racial integration in North Carolina’s public schools remains an unrealized dream throughout most of the state.

The situation is especially acute in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which, according to a 2018 report by veteran education policy researcher Kris Nordstrom on the North Carolina Justice Center, has become “by far the most racially segregated district in the state.”

So, is the battle over? If not, what’s next in the effort to combat school re-segregation? Join us on Wednesday, October 30 at Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church as we examine these and other timely questions with a distinguished panel of experts.

When: Wednesday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m.— Light refreshments will be available

Where: Friendship Missionary Baptist Church – 3400 Beatties Ford Rd., Charlotte, NC 28216

Space is limited – preregistration requested.

Cost: Suggested donation $10, but no one will be turned away for their inability to pay.

Note: If you are unable to pay the suggested fee while registering online, simply click “pay at the door” to complete your registration.

Questions?? Contact Billy Ball at 919-861-1460 or billy@ncpolicywatch.com

Seats are sure to go fast – don’t miss this very special event!

Click here to register.

Commentary, Education, News

Must-read: What we can learn from a canceled Wake County class on diversity

Chances are, most everyone knows someone who teaches in a classroom.

It’s an enormous job, putting it mildly. But it’s also a much more complicated job than it was decades ago.

Questions about pay aside, and they are major questions, the modern classroom isn’t the same place it was when the lion’s share of North Carolina’s lawmakers enrolled in K-12. It is more diverse; it is more globally connected; and it is under enormous pressure from a school choice movement that’s squeezed traditional public schools for resources and pupils.

But a report Monday from Carolina Public Press highlights another challenge for educators: teaching about diversity. As the report notes, Wake County officials nixed a class recently when parents raised privacy concerns about the forward-thinking course.

Surely a valuable subject, North Carolina educators need to find a way to make such a course work. The report explains those looming difficulties in detail.

Here’s an excerpt, although check out Carolina Public Press for the full piece:

When a Wake County teacher had her students use a “diversity inventory,” concerns about privacy led the principal to cancel the classroom lesson in late August.

But the question that education leaders in that school district and others across North Carolina are still dealing with is how to teach about identity in the classroom without violating student privacy.

The issue is multifaceted. First, the checklist used in that lesson didn’t quite fit the lesson plan the Heritage High School class was supposed to be using, Wake County Public School System spokesperson Lisa Lutin said. The lesson was intended to teach about identity, not diversity.

The lesson also required students to ask their family, neighbors, peers and others to contribute information. With fields such as “sexuality,” “ability” and “socio-economic status” on the list, some parents felt uncomfortable and contacted the school.

Principal Scott Lyons reviewed the material and canceled the lesson.

Identity and diversity

Identity and diversity are distinctly separate, according to Dana Griffin, associate professor and faculty chair at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education.

Griffin, a former school counselor as well as a marriage and family counselor, now instructs school counselors at the undergraduate and graduate levels on how to teach about identity.

Griffin does think that teaching about diversity is important.

“I can’t speak for the school or the person who was doing the activity in class,” Griffin told Carolina Public Press.

“When I talk about diversity or cultural identity, I say that I use ‘diversity’ broadly, like as the adjective: ‘We are a diverse population.’ What makes us diverse are our cultural identities. What are our identities? And then, here’s the list: The identity is age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack of, disability, military, education, right? Work, family, even our family makeup. What I try to do is normalize it, that no matter what or how we identify, or what our experiences are, it doesn’t mean that we are better than or less than.”

It’s important for students to understand that individuals will have various life experiences according to their identities, Griffin said.

Many people tend to think of race or gender as an identity, but Griffin pointed out that identities have many factors. Two people of the same race and religion but in separate social classes would likely have different experiences that would shape their unique identities.

Education

Superintendent Mark Johnson’s letter explaining iPad decision draws a predictable response

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Is was predictable.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s decision to pushback against criticism that he awarded hundreds of iPads to educators without having them apply for the electronic devices through a formal, competitive process produced — well, more criticism.

Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte teacher who blogs at “Notes from the Chalkboard,” took a swing at Johnson after posting a letter Johnson wrote to editors at the Charlotte Observer defending the iPad awards.

Parmenter posted the letter on the “North Carolina Teachers United” Facebook page with this comment:

“I’m not sure if this makes me an establishment insider or media elite, but Mark Johnson’s letter is missing an explanation of how state law allows him to take funds the General Assembly allocated to DPI and give thousands of $$ worth of technology to teachers of his unilateral choosing without an equitable process,” Parmenter wrote.

“Establishment insider?” “Media elite?”

Parmenter snatched those words right out of Johnson’s letter.

“I ran for office to be an agent of change. I knew that meant establishment insiders and media elites would never like me. But I work for the people of North Carolina,” Johnson said.

Parmenter’s criticism of Johnson is the same as that hurled by some State Board of Education (SBE) members at their monthly meeting.  There, Johnson was questioned about the wisdom of unilaterally distributing iPads without a formal system or process to ensure fairness and equity.

“How do we respond when the question is, ‘Well, what criteria is used to make these awards and how does my school get into the queue to be considered for these awards?'” asked SBE Chairman Eric Davis.

Johnson responded that all teachers must do is to send him an email. His office later issued a statement that said teachers must apply to be considered for iPads.

A Pitt County teacher got 100 iPads for her classroom after she emailed Johnson to ask for them. The Ocracoke School, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Dorian, received 200 iPads after school leaders talked to Johnson.

Johnson explained in the letter that he was attempting bypass government bureaucracy, which slows the process of getting materials and supplies into classrooms.

“I travel the state often to avoid becoming yet another Raleigh insider who never meets face-to-face with constituents,” Johnson said. “I frequently hear about the delay in response time caused by bureaucracy. I also get to see firsthand how N.C. teachers make use of iPads to help provide better, personalized opportunities for students.”

Johnson’s letter also covered much of the ground he did at the SBE’s monthly meeting. He explained that he paid for the extra iPads with savings realized after implementing “efficiency” measures in the Office of Superintendent.

He also took another jab at his predecessor, June Atkinson and his SBE colleagues, to justify spending the savings on the iPads.

“In 2016, my predecessor chose to use the State Superintendent’s operating budget for sponsoring conferences and paying for meals for hundreds of attendees,” Johnson wrote. “In 2017, the Board of Education, which sued to try to keep control of the state education agency, used $380,000 to pay for lawyers in courtrooms rather than resources in classrooms.”

The $380,000 Johnson referenced is money the SBE spent in a legal tangle that involved Johnson, Republican lawmakers and the SBE over who would control the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.