About That ReOrg at DPI And What The Hell Is a Deputy Superintendent of Innovation?

As reported yesterday by many outlets, Mark Johnson announced a reorganization at the Department of Public Instruction, one of the many results of a recent court case that took over a year to settle and an audit that cost over a million dollars which said that DPI was underfunded.

Alex Granados of EdNC.org published the actual email sent out by Johnson to staff at DPI.

Dear Colleagues:
As most of you know, since becoming state superintendent, I have advocated a strategy of bold innovation and true urgency at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to support our state’s educators and students.
Today, we are taking major steps toward those goals by changing the way DPI is organized. To provide better support to the field, we need more efficiency and fewer silos in our organizational structure. (You can see the new structure here.)
To that end, I am creating a new deputy superintendent structure to drive innovation, collaboration, and operational efficiency. All deputy superintendents will now have a more effective number of directors reporting to them, which allows us to flatten the org chart and break down silos in the department. More division directors will be closer to leadership in this flatter structure.
Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, who has been invaluable to me and to the department, will remain in her position as Deputy Superintendent for District Support. Dr. Eric Hall will become the Deputy Superintendent of Innovation. The new Deputy Superintendent of Operations position will relieve the other deputies from dealing with the department’s procurement, contracts, IT, HR, and other operational matters. This will allow Maria and Eric to focus on better supporting educators, students, and parents while the department can now make long-overdue improvements to our internal processes.
Eric’s group will house divisions including Charter Schools, the ISD, Career and Technical Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Accountability, and Federal Programs – all areas that will focus on generating, implementing, evaluating, and scaling successful strategies across the state to improve student outcomes.
Maria’s district support group will include the new Regional District Support, the new Educator Recruitment and Support, and other divisions that assist school districts and educators. The vision for this group will be to begin the shift to a data-driven support model through regional support teams. Teams will utilize a central data repository to improve local decision-making in partnership with schools and districts.
Maria will play the key role in driving collaboration as the Regional District Support team will need to work across the entire department. In fact, you may notice that there doesn’t seem to be a perfect break between the Innovation and District Support groups; that is by design. Overall, the changes are intended to foster more cooperation and collaboration among directors for the ultimate benefit of our educators and students.
Today, Maria, Eric, and I met with division directors to begin the work to develop plans for the transition to the new structure. I will begin to meet weekly with my DPI leadership team and regularly with division directors to drive our vision for transforming K-12 education in North Carolina. Also, all DPI staff will have an opportunity soon to discuss this new structure with us.
Thank you for your patience as we move to implement these changes. I know there has been a significant amount of change at DPI over the past 18 months. I appreciate all the work staff and local districts have done while these shifts, sometimes painful and sometimes merely distracting, have played out around us. I sincerely hope that we are at a point where we can begin to focus on urgently driving the innovation our system needs to truly fulfill the educational aspirations of educators, parents, and students.
In the coming weeks, we will be communicating more with you and the field about how these changes will be implemented and what changes districts and charter schools can expect.
Thank you for all you do for North Carolina’s public schools. North Carolina is fortunate to have you.
Mark
Important contact information:
  • Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin will be the Deputy Superintendent for District Support.
    • When local district officials or superintendents have questions or concerns for DPI, Maria is your best point of contact as she will reach across the department to drive collaboration and customer service for schools.
  • Dr. Eric Hall will be the Deputy Superintendent of Innovation.
  • Dr. Pamela Shue will remain the lead for early childhood education as the Deputy Superintendent for Early Education.
  • The Deputy Superintendent for Operations has not been announced yet.
  • Alexis Schauss will fill a new position as the Chief School Business Officer for NC public schools.
  • Stacy Wilson-Norman will be the division director for Curriculum and Instruction. Thank you to Christie Lynch-Ebert for serving as the interim director.
  • There are no other changes in division directors.
  • Regularly scheduled webinars will continue for now as Eric, Maria, Alexis, Stacy, and other division directors formulate best practices going forward (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/24/superintendent-mark-johnson-announces-new-organizational-changes-at-dpi/).

Forget that Stacy Wilson-Norman actually spells her name “Stacey” and that “true urgency” took over 18 months to happen, there are some things worth noting about the new organizational chart.

Below is what it was prior to the new reorganization.

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

The first thing to notice is that on the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1 with this:

With the 8 June 2018 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Session Law 2016-126, I am now exercising my authority under that Act to manage administrative and supervisory personnel of the Department. Accordingly, I am changing your position appointment from “dual report” to reporting [only to the Superintendent directly] or [to the Superintendent through the Deputy State Superintendent]. The change in your appointment is effective immediately,” Johnson wrote (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/17/state-board-of-education-loses-power-over-dpi-leadership/).

What that means is that those people who held those positions not only answer to Johnson now alone, but he has total control over what they do. A man with less than two calendar years of teacher training and classroom experience combined along with an unfinished term on a local school board now “calls” the shots for all of those veterans in a DPI whose budget is being slashed by the very people who prop up Johnson.

Also in the older chart, Johnson reports to the state board. In the new one, the state board of education does not even really have any ties to DPI except through an internal auditor. It’s like they do not exist, which is just what the powers that run the NCGA wanted.

Another change is that there are now FOUR Deputy State Superintendents: Operations, District Support, Early Education, and Innovation.

Innovation? One can see the concreteness of operations, support, and focus on early education, but “Innovation” sounds rather nebulous.

Or maybe not if you have followed Johnson’s track record these past eighteen months in office.

If you look under the Dept. Supt. of Innovation’s duties you will see the following:

  • Innovative School District
  • Charter Schools
  • Federal Programs
  • Career and Technical Education
  • Accountability
  • Curriculum and Instruction

That job is being filled by Dr. Eric Hall who until recently was only the superintendent of the Innovative School District. So now the super of an ISD that has only one school in its district which is many miles away from DPI and has yet to be opened as an ISD school much less proven its effectiveness but also has almost unlimited funds to ensure success – now breathe – will take over five other branches of DPI functionality?

If giving that many hats to one person who has yet to show results in the state as far as his previous post begs is innovative, then it is appropriately named.

If someone is going to be able to spin SB514, diversity problems, and a lack of accountability for the charter school industry here in NC with a positive light, then yes, that would be innovation. And it could happen because Dr. Hall oversees accountability.

Yet will he have the objectivity to be able to show how accountable or unaccountable charters and the ISD prove to be?

And believe it or not, innovation within curriculum and instruction is more teacher driven, but Johnson seems to not like teachers in any of his posts. Their experience and insight would prove him wrong.

Of course, any new state superintendent will want to put his mark on DPI, but this organizational change is just another way of placing people loyal to Johnson and ultimately loyal to Berger and Moore in positions to carry out other people’s wishes. Right now they are bent on privatizing as much of the public education system as they can. They need “YES” people in DPI. And no one is a bigger “YES” person than Johnson.

Maybe they forgot one crucial part to the new organization flowchart that would lend more clarity.

orgchart2

That’s more like it.

Our State Superintendent Will Rally, Just Not For Public Schools

Rally (noun) –
1a : a mustering of scattered forces to renew an effort
2: a mass meeting intended to arouse group enthusiasm (merriam-webster.com)

The following tweet came from our state superintendent on June 25th of this year.

Farmers

It is the right of every American to come together and peacefully speak out for an issue. What someone rallies for speaks for their interests and values.

When a lawmaker or an elected official attends a rally, it can show his priorities and/or his loyalties like Mark Johnson.

According to the job description of the state superintendent, Johnson is responsible for the “day-to-day” management of the North Carolina public school system. It seems that if anything was to threaten the public school system, then Mark Johnson would be the first to “rally” for the public school system and the students in the public school system.

This past January a rally was held in Raleigh at the Halifax Mall of public school advocates calling for a fix to the class size mandate that threatens most public school systems. This unfunded dictate would cause LEA’s to make decisions on what classes must be eliminated and how to navigate certain obstacles on classroom space and teacher allotment.

That rally was to petition Raleigh’s lawmakers to do the right thing. FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Mark Johnson was not there. Didn’t even tweet about it. Yet a former state superintendent was present, Bob Etheridge. He was rallying for public schools.

But that does not mean Mark Johnson did not “rally” for people in January.

rally

Johnson was there. He was even the keynote speaker. He will rally for charter schools in a state that has gone out of its way to deregulate charter schools, ramp up vouchers, and use taxpayer money to fund those endeavors when no empirical data shows an overall increase in student achievement.

That’s the same taxpayer money that is not now being used for public schools and not being used to actually fund the class size mandate.

Fast forward to another rally. IMG_6484

When nearly a fifth of the state’s teaching force showed up in Raleigh on May 16th, where was Mark Johnson?

Not there in Raleigh. He didn’t even tweet about it.

But he did tweet about the NC Farmers on June 25th. And they certainly need all of our support, but did Johnson ever approach the NCGA about their decision to protect hog farm corporations in lawsuits when they are clearly encroaching on quality of life for people who live in the rural areas near them?

Ironically, when Johnson tweets support for agricultural studies in rural ares he is supposedly showing support for counties whose school systems may rely on DPI to help with professional development and other resources. If Johnson wanted to help some of those rural areas, then maybe he would have fought harder for DPI to keep both their budgeting and their staff who service all students.

Hard to be a leader of the public schools when you don’t rally with teachers or for public schools, but rather seem more interested in being friendly with those who seek to privatize public schools like in the following instance:

Jebbush.png

That was on June 26th, the day after the rally for farmers. By the end of the week, Johnson laid off over 40 DPI veterans. The Human Resources Dept. did the laying-off. Johnson wasn’t there.

There’s a pattern, and it shows that Mark Johnson simply refuses to rally for, with, and among teachers in support of public education.

How Easily Supt. Johnson Could Have Prevented the Recent Department of Public Instruction Purge…

…but it would mean going against the wishes of those who control him, and it would also break tradition of actually serving the public school system.

From WRAL’s Kelly Hinchcliffe this past June 29:

State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Friday that the Department of Public Instruction is eliminating 61 positions – 40 employees and 21 vacant positions. The layoffs are in response to $5.1 million in budget cuts lawmakers made to the agency.

The cuts mainly affect employees in two divisions – Educator Support Services, which helps some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, and Information Technology. The General Assembly reduced the agency’s administrative funds by 6.2 percent this school year and 13.9 percent next school year.

“I support the decisions we made, but we did not make them lightly,” Johnson said in a statement. “I thank all the affected employees for their hard work in support of our public schools. Each will have the option to receive transition assistance, and we are adamant about helping each affected employee who wants our help to find new employment” (https://www.wral.com/40-state-education-staffers-laid-off-21-vacant-positions-eliminated/17665067/).

That was $5.1 million in budget cuts. Yet Johnson has more than accounted $5.1 million in spending above and beyond what this year’s budget already allotted.

Remember when  Johnson was given 700,000 dollars to hire people loyal only to Johnson who were performing tasks already fulfilled and to cover legal fees in a lawsuit with the state board.

432

300

Johnson also spent a million dollars to pay Ernst & Young to perform an audit to find supposed “wasteful” uses of funds in DPI.

The audit concluded that DPI was underfunded.

There’s $1.7 million right there.

Then there is this from this past March:

The Department of Public Instruction is distributing a total of $4.8 million from funds allocated by the state in 2016 as part of its Read to Achieve initiative for “literacy support” in early grades. Johnson, in his time as superintendent, has emphasized the importance of reading proficiency and early literacy education(https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/09/superintendent-johnson-continues-push-early-literacy-announces-200-k-3-reading-teacher/).

Dr. June Atkinson shed some light on this “magic” funding last December. It might be worth reading this report from NC Policy Watch – “Mark Johnson accused of misleading the public regarding literacy program spending.”

Yes, that money Johnson “found” went to teachers, but it seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. On purpose.

Ironically, Johnson could have fought for more early literacy funding in this year’s budget. It seems to be his big endeavor. And if it that important to him, then would he not actively fight for additional funds for that initiative from the very same lawmakers who are lowering corporate tax rates AGAIN and bragging about a surplus?

Plus, look at the positions eliminated by Johnson and Raleigh.

$1.7 million + $4.8 million = a hell of a lot more than $5.1 million.

In fact, it could allow for those DPI veterans to remain working with low-performing schools and fill the vacant spots with literacy coaches and have money left over to hire more people who can help with reading initiatives around the state.

 

 

 

The State Superintendent Meets With Privatizers on Monday, Then 40 People Were Laid Off at DPI on Friday

On Monday,  Johnson was busily entertaining former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a multitude of other politicians who have made it their job to privatize public education in North Carolina.

meeting1

jebmark1

On Friday, he laid off 40 people from the Department of Public Instruction due to a budget cut made by many lawmakers in the same room as Johnson and Bush in a year where the state supposedly had a surplus.

From T. Keung Hui in  today’s News & Observer,

Layoff notices were given Friday to 40 employees at the state Department of Public Instruction — including several who work with North Carolina’s low-performing schools — to help meet a $5.1 million budget cut ordered by state lawmakers.

Most of the cuts were in Educator Support Services, a division that helps low-performing schools and districts, and in the Information Technology Division. In addition to the 40 layoffs, 21 vacant positions were eliminated, according to State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson.

“Today, we implemented the budget reductions required by law for the 2018-19 fiscal year,” Johnson said in a written statement. “The plan we developed, drafted by members of the DPI leadership team with the understanding and support of the State Board of Education, was informed by the recommendations contained in the third-party operational review of the agency completed earlier this year by Ernst & Young (EY) “ (https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article214065504.html).

Those same state lawmakers also gave Johnson 700,000 dollars to hire people loyal only to Johnson who were performing tasks already fulfilled and to cover legal fees in a lawsuit with the state board.

432

300

Those same lawmakers also gave Johnson a million dollars to pay Ernst & Young to perform an audit to find supposed “wasteful” uses of funds in DPI.

They concluded that DPI was underfunded.

1.7 million dollars is exactly a third of the amount of money cut from the budget for DPI. Wonder how many jobs that would translate to?

Johnson’s remarks in the N&O report were submitted by a written report. He could meet Jeb Bush personally, but was he there to give the DPI employees who have been there much longer than he has their notices?

What Johnson said later in his written statement is even more egregious.

“I support the decisions we made, but we did not make them lightly. I thank all the affected employees for their hard work in support of our public schools. Each will have the option to receive transition assistance, and we are adamant about helping each affected employee who wants our help to find new employment.”

All jobs in DPI that relate to charter schools and the Innovative School District were not touched.

This just keeps proving something that most public school advocates already knew: Mark Johnson is simply toxic for North Carolina’s public school system. Voting out the puppet masters who enable him in November could go a long way into reclaiming our public schools.

 

 

 

“Less Than Stellar” – The State Superintendent Is Right

Stellar

“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?

No.

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.”

Not Ready to Lead: Mark Johnson’s Empty List of Accomplishments

After almost one full year in office, Mark Johnson has shown that he is not ready to be a leader.

In fact, he seems rather satisfied with going around in circles.

The State Superintendent’s most recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” is simply a long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car that should leave all public school advocates suffocating from the exhaust. (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

Why? Because what he said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how he is more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

It is indicative of someone more concerned with the appearance of matters rather than tackling the very obstacles that stand in the way of public schools succeeding.

It is symptomatic of someone who wants to appear that he is leading, but really is most reliant on certain people on West Jones Street to keep him propped up in office.

It is an avenue that someone with his lack of leadership would use when he has been asked multiple times by the state board of education what his actual plan for the state’s public school system is yet he stares ahead and balks at the opportunity.

In the first paragraph Johnson states,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which he defined his brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since Johnson was elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of his accomplishments as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions has taken taken are in direct contrast to his campaign “promises.”

  1. Johnson said that he conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. He said at one time that he would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But North Carolians have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. Johnson said that he would decrease the amount of standardized testing that NC would subject students to, but this past week he announced that he wants to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing.

  1. In his op-ed, Johnson celebrates the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. He said that people wanted more transparency.

But did he address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did he acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. Johnson has called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet his lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if he is calling for an audit, will he allow it to highlight the fact that he is using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money he was given to hire people only loyal to him and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, Johnson criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet he never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. Johnson even hired as his Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. Johnson did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with multitudes of elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet he seems to celebrate the arts and music in NC’s public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What has he done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, Johnson seems rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while he is actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives him control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect him to have.

In fact, when Johnson mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because he himself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND ALL OF THEM ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining public school students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

And this post has not even begun to talk about the use of vouchers, the deregulation of charter schools, and the absolute mess that the Innovative School District has become – all of which Johnson supports.

But here is the biggest disconnect with Johnson’s analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of his op-ed. He states,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While Johnson talks about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that he uses an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And his narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people he seems to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

A Response to Mark Johnson’s Latest Missive – With Help From Ricky Bobby

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I read with great interest your recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

And after reading your long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car, I found myself suffocating from the exhaust.

Why? Because what you said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how you are more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

In the first paragraph you state,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which you defined your brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since you were elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of your accomplishments from your first calendar year as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions you have taken are in direct contrast to your campaign “promises.”

  1. 1. You said that you conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. You said at one time that you would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But we have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. You said that you would decrease the amount of standardized testing that we would subject students to, but this past week you announced that you want to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing to me.

  1. 3. In your op-ed, you celebrate the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. You said that people wanted more transparency.

But did you address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did you acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. 4. You have called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet your lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if you are calling for an audit, will you allow it to highlight the fact that you are using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money you were given to hire people only loyal to you and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, you criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet you never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. You even hired as your Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. You did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with our elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet you seem to celebrate the arts and music in our public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What have you done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, you seem rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while you are actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives you control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect you to have.

In fact, when you mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because you yourself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND YOU ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining our students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

But here is the biggest disconnect with your analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of your op-ed. You state,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While you talk about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that you use an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And your narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people you seem to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

Even Ricky Bobby knows that.

ricky bobby

The State Superintendent Needs Someone to Speak For Him – Someone Who Speaks With Details Is Preferred

State Superintendent Mark Johnson has begun to use the $700,000 of tax payer money given to him by the NC General Assembly to begin hiring people who can help carry out his nebulous, amorphous, and ambiguous agenda that has been long in the making but short in the doing.

That $700,000 dollars is specifically for Johnson to fill positions that report only to him as he seems to have a hard time collaborating with others on the state board to make sure schools have what they need.

As WRAL reported late last week,

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has begun hiring new staff for his office, using $700,000 in taxpayer money given to him by the General Assembly this year.

Johnson can create up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers granted him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system.

He recently received budget approval from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to create three positions, and more are expected later. According to OSBM, the three positions and budgeted amounts approved for the salaries (excluding benefits) are:

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly which slashed the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by over 20% in the latest two-year budget.

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly that financed Johnson’s lawsuit against the State Board of Education which has called into question Johnson’s need to be enabled just to produce results in his job.

And that second job listed above? The Information and Communication Specialist who will make more than almost every teacher with the highest credentials and most advanced degrees and certification who has been working in schools for longer than Johnson has been alive? That job is for a spokesperson.

That’s right. Johnson is hiring someone to speak for him. Just him.

Do not let it be lost on anyone that the Department of Public Instruction, which Johnson “leads,” already has a communication specialist. The problem is that that spokesperson would speak for the entirety of DPI, not just Johnson alone. As WRAL relates,

Johnson also plans to hire a communications specialist who will work directly for him. DPI recently hired a new communications director, Drew Elliot, but he serves both the superintendent and state board. In a phone interview Thursday, Elliot said the superintendent wants his own communications specialist because he has a “renewed focus on communication.”

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating things like details and direct answers.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating directly with all school systems throughout the entire year unlike over the summer when Johnson ordered a vital list serve portal to be shut down.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating direct answers instead of giving ambiguous responses like he did in the last state school board meeting when he was asked about his views on the cuts to DPI and the new principal pay plan.

And hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve finding someone who has more experience in being a spokesperson than Johnson has in being an educator and instructional leader.

That shouldn’t be too hard. There’s probably another person from McCrory’s administration ready to take on the task.

Or maybe Sean Spicer or even Anthony Scaramucci?

scaramucci

 

 

 

Not Saying Much With a Lot of Words – The Disappointing Interview With State Superintendent Mark Johnson

In what might be a first in the nine months that he has been in office, North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson gave an interview that was accessible to the average North Carolinian.

johnson

In “‘Fighting the status quo’: Inside the combative world of NC’s new public schools chief,” Johnson offers some explanation of his vision for North Carolina and reflects on his rather unorthodox term as the leader of the public schools in North Carolina (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/27/fighting-status-quo-inside-combative-world-ncs-new-public-schools-chief/).

For many, this interview might have shed some light on what Johnson really hopes to accomplish. It may have had some substance and some weight to it. It may have offered details not previously known. It may have filled in some empty spaces.

Yet, for many public school advocates, it was another example of not saying much with a lot of words. And that conclusion is based on five specific instances within the interview / profile that glaringly confirm Johnson’s focus on what is to happen in North Carolina’s public schools seems to be in direct contrast to his actions and / or words.

  1. Three initiatives?

Alex Granados and Kelly Hinchcliffe (from EdNC.org and WRAL respectively) write,

During the interview, Johnson spoke passionately about his vision for public schools and the three initiatives for which he has the most excitement:

  • Promoting early childhood learning by encouraging parents to read to their children every day
  • Advancing personalized learning in classrooms so students can work at their own pace
  • Teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success.

Those three initiatives speak to the nebulous approach that Johnson has used in his tenure.

First, what state superintendent has not encouraged parents to read to their children? That is certainly not a new idea, nor is the focus on early childhood education. It usually depends on how much one is willing to invest in the initiative.

In the video interview, Johnson talked about how investing one dollar in pre-K initiatives yielded a return of anywhere between $4 and $16 into the economy. How odd that Johnson not openly fight against the reduction of the budget for DPI that would help in this funding this endeavor.

Furthermore, when many kids who struggle in schools come from impoverished areas of the state, they may have parents or guardians who may not be able to sacrifice the time to make reading to their children a priority simply because they are trying to work to get the necessities of life. There is more to getting children “kindergarten ready” than just reading to them.

And is he ready to fight for the resources to make that happen? And will he be ready to reach out to these parents, because he surely has not been all-together approachable so far.

Secondly, advancing personalized learning requires resources and professional development. It also requires allowing teachers to have the time to work with individual students and a willingness to not measure success by timed intervals. There is nothing that Johnson has said that would lend thought to an idea of extra funds, more professional development, smaller classes while maintaining specials, or lightening the restrictive bonds of promoting students when schools are measured by strict graduation rates.

If students are to be encouraged to go “at their own pace,” then what will Johnson do to make sure that teachers are able to spend more time and attention to each individual?

And that “teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success?” Then why allow the state to make all students take the ACT which is a college-entrance test rather than allow career ready students to take another assessment that is constructed for their particular program of study?

  1. About “Taking Orders” From the General Assembly

Johnson said in the interview,

“I have a great working relationship with the General Assembly, and our visions actually align very similarly,” he said. “It’s a give and take. We don’t agree on everything, and we work together on what we do agree with.”

What has he ever publicly disagreed with the General Assembly about? And the fact that their “visions align very similarly” seems more of an approval for the many “reforms” that West Jones Street has enacted.

In fact, Johnson sounds more compliant than leading real change. That’s not “transformation” of public education. That’s “preservation” of the General Assembly’s actions.

  1. “Urgency, Ownership, Innovation, and Transparency.”

It was mentioned by the writers:

Throughout the interview, Johnson frequently returned to his often-used talking points, promising to bring urgency, ownership, innovation and transparency to the state’s education system. He also spoke about his past and how it has shaped his beliefs about public education.

The word “urgency” has become a bit of a mantra for him. He highlighted it in his first state school board meeting. But that “urgency” takes an interesting turn in meaning in this interview. As stated,

But do not expect any major changes right away if Johnson wins the lawsuit.

“I think if you’re looking for a seismic shift, you’re not going to find it. There’s not going to be this tidal wave of change that’s going to come bursting through the doors at DPI,” he said.

Instead, the changes would be systematic, with Johnson hoping to rework the agency’s organizational chart “to make things more accountable and transparent.”

Of course there will not be a “tidal wave” of change coming from the “doors of DPI.” Why? Because those tsunamis are coming from West Jones Street and the powers that be in the General Assembly whom Johnson works closely with.

If one listened to the interview in full, then it becomes apparent that there really are no concrete “innovations” that Johnson talks about, but rather general platitudes and lofty oversimplifications. Talking about having a strong relationship between communities and schools is not an innovation. That’s already happening. If anything, communities are talking about their schools and the need for their schools and have been communicating that with lawmakers and policy makers.

Furthermore, if there are any real concrete innovations that Johnson has, then he needs to be very specific about them and be public with them. That would show some real “ownership” and “transparency.”

  1. Testing

Johnson ran on a platform that said we as a state tested too much.

From the Charlotte Observer on Jan. 27 of this year,

“Too much testing” was a major theme in Johnson’s campaign, and the federal government’s switch from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states more flexibility to scale back (http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article128951579.html).

So, guess what word never comes up in the article concerning the interview? It’s the same word that never is voiced in the entire 27 minute video interview linked to the interview.

That word is “testing.”

Not a word.

What is also interesting is that the state recently had to present its plan to adhere to the new ESSA standards. From the Sept. 5th article from the News & Observer by T. Keung Hui:

Despite pledges to try to cut back on high-stakes standardized testing, North Carolina schools will continue to largely be evaluated based on how well their students perform on state exams.

… State Supt. Mark Johnson had campaigned on a “too much testing” theme in 2016, saying the state could take advantage of the flexibility given in ESSA to scale things back. In an interview Friday, Johnson downplayed the significance of the new plan, saying it’s a living document that can be changed over time (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article171279007.html).

Downplaying it is not the way to “not talk” about it. Giving a coherent plan as to how he will reduce testing in the state in an open, transparent manner would show that Johnson plans to “own” this part of his platform. It would be great if he was “urgent” about it as well because news that the ACT will become a central part of how each student will be measured no matter what “pathway” he/she chooses.

Or maybe they can take it when they are ready at their own pace. Or better yet, let’s not force each student to take a test designed for college admittance when not all students want to go to college.

  1. Blaming Previous DPI Leaders

One final note concerns Johnson’s insistence that previous leaders were simply not accomplishing what needed to be done.

However, it is interesting that Johnson blames others who had to work under a more restrictive atmosphere than he supposedly will if he wins the lawsuit against the state board. In fact, Johnson’s entire tenure has centered around trying to win a lawsuit to not have to work under the same conditions that previous leaders had to.

It really only proves that if Johnson is going to “transform” anything, he is going to have the legislation do it for him, specifically in special sessions.

Now that’s transparency.

Principals Need More Respect Than This

If you want to look at the reason why a school performs well, then look to the relationships that surround the people: student, teachers, parents, community, staff, and what might be one of the most underappreciated roles in public education – the principal.

Principles-for-Hiring-Principals

The responsibility of a principal is hard to even describe, much less fathom, if you have not been in administration before. They are the face of a school, the sounding board of a community, and the instructional leaders.

When a principal is effective, great things happen in a school. When a principal is ineffective, all facets of a school can stagnate.

All effective principals understand that the most sacred dynamic in the school is the student-teacher relationship. They understand that education is a people centered endeavor, not a transaction. They understand that a single test does not define a person.

Yet, principals in North Carolina rank 50th in the United States when it comes to salary.

That’s 50th.Out of 51.

So the powers that be in Raleigh did something about it. Maybe they finally realized that recruiting and properly compensating principals would be greatly enhanced if they had a competitive salary.

Therefore, they “reformed” it. The problem is that those lawmakers forgot that education is a people-centered avocation – not a production line manufacturing plant of knowledge dispensation.

As the venerable Lindsay Wagner (newly housed within the Public School Forum of NC) wrote this week,

North Carolina’s principals, whose salaries ranked 50th in the nation in 2016, watched this year as lawmakers changed how they are compensated, moving away from a salary schedule based on years of service and earned credentials to a so-called performance-based plan that relies on students’ growth measures (calculated off standardized test scores) and the size of the school to calculate pay” (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Yep, they really did something about it. As Wagner states,

But the plan’s design has produced scenarios that result in some veteran principals conceivably earning as much as 30 percent less than what they earned on the old  pay schedules—prompting some to consider early retirements.”

They made a terrible situation even worse.

This salt-infused Band-Aid of a reform is yet another example of a rough-shod method that lawmakers have used to overhaul a once thriving public school system into a shadow of its former self –  all in the name of improving education.

If one reads the entirety of Wagner’s report, it becomes apparent that the new principal pay plan is long on political ideology and short of thoughtful research and reflection. Too many scenarios exist that could force many a principal to see stark reductions in salary based on arbitrary test scores. Veteran principals, which are becoming a rare breed in NC, would even be encouraged to retire early.

But one comment really stands out.

“Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.”

It seems no one really knows who came up with the new pay plan. And that is just further proof of the problem that truly exists in Raleigh.

The problem? Lawmakers and other bureaucrats forgot that education is centered around process and progress, not test scores. They forgot that growth means more than arbitrary proficiency. They forgot that educators collaborate and not compete.

It is telling when you read a state board member say,

“The General Assembly really needs a partner called DPI, who understands the implications of various legislative proposals and can prepare expert advice on the outcomes that might result.”

What that means is that there is no communication. No collaboration. No respect for process. No respect for growth.

A good principal could have told them that.

For a group of people who have so much power over public schools, they sure could use a good education in how schools really work.