Dear State Superintendent – Elect Johnson,
Congratulations on your election to a most important office in public service, but I must admit, I did not vote for you.
I am sure that your intentions are altruistic, but I did not think you were a person with the experience, knowledge, follow-through, and commitment to lead the public schools in the state of North Carolina.
When you campaigned to become a school board member in my home district (Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools), you touted your experience as a teacher in an inner-city school, specifically West Mecklenburg High School through the Teach For America program.
However, while your five weeks of preparation and two years in the profession may be enough to witness the obstacles that affect public education, I hardly believe it qualifies you to take control of the Department of Public Instruction. As I stated in an earlier letter to you, there are “Teachers who have taught much longer than your two-year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy” beyond any of your experience.
You may refer to your time as a member of the school board of the fifth largest school system in the state, but even then you did not finish a complete term.
You may say that you too are a parent of public school children, but even in an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal while running for a seat on the school board you admitted that you and your wife were not totally committed to enrolling your own children in public schools.
And now with the impending effects of House Bill 17 from the surreptitious special session of this past week, you will be the most enabled incoming state superintendent in state history. You will have powers that even your predecessor did not possess one-tenth the magnitude of. And considering that you ran against her adherence to the “status-quo”, that’s rather eye-opening.
This past Oct. 23 in the Winston-Salem Journal in an article by Arika Herron you commented on the job that Dr. Atkinson had done in her tenure as a state superintendent.
“More of the same is not the only option for students and educators,” Johnson said, who has campaigned heavily against the “status quo.”
Johnson said he first ran for the Forsyth County school board in 2014 in hopes of making a difference in struggling local schools, an area of interest since teaching for two years in a Charlotte high school through the Teach for America program.
Johnson said he quickly realized that many obstacles to improving Forsyth County schools were statewide issues, over which the local school board had little control. After fewer than two years on the Forsyth County school board, Johnson announced plans to run for state superintendent.
“What’s most at stake,” he said, “is whether we’re going to have my opponent, who’s going to continue the status quo, or someone who’s going to bring in a fresh perspective and make the change needed to improve public education” (http://www.greensboro.com/news/government/elections/forsyth-county-republican-takes-on-incumbent-in-state-superintendent-race/article_768efc7f-c25c-524c-89e6-c1a235a5e950.html).
Those are strong words considering what just happened in the special session and the amount of power you will be granted that Dr. Atkinson never had. It sounds as if the “status-quo” was not really established by Dr. Atkinson, but by the limitations placed on her and her department.
The last I observed, Dr. Atkinson was not responsible for:
- Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
- Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
- Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
- Remove Caps on Class Sizes
- Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
- Cutting Teacher Assistants
- Expanding Opportunity Grants
- Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
- Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
- Achievement School Districts
- Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
- Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program
The people who just granted you immeasurable power as state superintendent did those actions.
Yet if those actions are part of the “status-quo” that you say we need to stop as a state, then what are you going to do?
If you have (as reported in Herron’s article), “taken issue with what (you) sees as a lack of support for teachers and schools coming from the department and a failure to respond quickly to such issues as the state’s academic standards and over-testing” will you really seek to empower or enable those very teachers and schools the way that people in the GOP controlled NCGA special session just empowered you before you even step foot inside of your new office?
When the chair and vice-chair of the GOP controlled State Board of Education say that the General Assembly overstepped its boundaries in granting you as the incoming state superintendent this much power, then that sends more than one red flag into the air.
When two former governors, one of whom is Republican Jim Martin, says the special session has gone too far with bills such as the one which enables you, then sirens are screaming.
When the John Locke Foundation says that the power grab that involves the role of your office has gone too far, then many are saying that part of hell is freezing over.
So, what will you do now that you will have much to say about charter schools and the Achievement School District, the management of monies for public schools, and who is hired in DPI as well as some who may sit on the State Board of Education?
Because if someone who was as experienced as your predecessor was as handcuffed as she and was still able to wage battle against the very forces that have actually controlled the very “status-quo” you seem to have run against, will you be willing to battle those very people for the sake of the students and schools now that they have politically enabled you?
Or will you bend to the wishes of those who have placed this power within your office through a politically motivated special session that was undertaken solely as a coup against the fact that a democrat won the governor’s election?
I eagerly await your answer through your actions in the coming years.
Voter, Parent of Public School Children, Veteran Public School Teacher