“Less Than Stellar” – The State Superintendent Is Right


“Less than stellar.”

That’s what State Superintendent Mark Johnson said about his recent comments concerning teacher pay in rural counties.

It’s one of the first times that he has been correct in gauging his performance as the top public school official in the state. But in truth, Johnson’s entire tenure as state superintendent has been less than stellar.

The first paragraph of today’s News & Observer op-ed was nothing more than a beginning at an ill-fated attempt in damage control for an elected public official who has been anything but “public.”

A key challenge facing North Carolina today is the urban-rural divide. This probably isn’t news to you. Gov. Roy Cooper started the Hometown Strong project to focus on this issue. What is surprising is how I recently triggered a statewide partisan flare-up after my admittedly inelegant attempt to highlight how this urban-rural split causes us to see things differently (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html?__twitter_impression=true).

Bridging that “urban – rural divide?” What about the move last July by Johnson to halt use of the key list-serve communications to LEA’s around the state leaving school systems, especially those in the rural counties, in the dark over DPI mandates? What about not fighting the cuts to DPI’s budget of nearly 20% over two years that would have been used to help professional development in school systems whose local budgets are strained?

“Partisan?” That’s a word Johnson uses to hopefully dismiss any notion that he is a politically motivated individual – one who is suing his own state board of education over power grabbing that occurred in a special session of the NC General Assembly that was meant to address HB2 but became a secret political coup. And the very day this op-ed comes out, arguments from lawyers that taxpayers are paying for are arguing over politics on Johnson’s behalf to the NC Supreme Court over that same power grab.

“Surprising?” Not at all. Just look at all of Johnson’s missives in the past – long on rhetoric, short on action.

Further in his “stellar” op-ed, Johnson says,

Last year, my team and I worked with the General Assembly to commit $105 million to replace clearly outdated school buildings in rural communities that cannot afford to build schools on their own.

But at any time did Johnson ever make comment on the class size mandate that will force local systems to create more class room space to accommodate an unfunded law?


This op-ed was nothing but an attempt to deflect attention from Johnson’s inexperience, lack of scope, and refusal to actually engage in the conversations he says that we must have. But that does not keep him from trying to claim the high road as his own when he ends with this:

We don’t agree on everything, but the governor and I can, and do, engage in productive conversations. I want others to join us.

Yet, if anything has become apparent with Mark Johnson, it is that he is not willing to have those conversations. If he can’t control the arena, the medium, or the audience, then he does not want to have the conversation. For a man who claims we need to be “urgent” and fight to transform public schools, Mark Johnson would rather write glittering op-eds, make videos, and only talk in controlled atmospheres. Anything else is too confrontational and fear-inducing.

Ironic that this past week, Johnson was invited to have one of those conversations with Mark Jewell from NCAE about the very comments he made that prompted this very op-ed. He declined.

So much for conversations.

But it certainly was an “inelegant attempt.”