Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Crowded Dems Primary (So Far) for NC Superintendent of Public Instruction

James Barrett

Since November 12th, when sitting Superintendent of Public Instrux, Republican Mark Johnson, announced he would not be running for reelection in 2020 but rather for lieutenant governor, a spotlight has grown on the several Democrats who will be competing in next March's primary to replace Johnson.

Here they are, in more or less the order of their announcements for office (and be assured, there are likely to be additional Democrats filing in December, not to mention a bunch of Republicans as well):

James Barrett served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board for eight years, including two years as chairman. He announced in early January of this year that he would not be running for reelection to that board but would be seeking the Superintendent's office instead. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system happens to have the highest local funding level in the state, and Barrett argues that every school system deserves equal funding. Barrett has said that "segregation is a huge problem that comes from school choice programs, so he’d require charter school applicants to have a plan showing how they wouldn’t further segregation. He’d also push for allowing local school boards to have the authority to approve their own charter schools." Barrett's working life has been spent as a corporate IT guy. He has no experience as a classroom teacher.
Michael Maher

Michael Maher, the assistant dean of professional education at N.C. State, announced in the last week of January. He started his career teaching high school science in Forsyth and Wake counties before moving to higher education. He currently serves as the president of the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators and also serves as vice chairman of the North Carolina Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission. He’s also on the board of directors of the American Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators. Maher has said he’s not an opponent of charter schools but is critical of a lax approval and renewal process. He is critical of voucher programs that help subsidize the cost of attending private schools. “I have a huge problem with using public dollars for private entities,” Maher said. “Our state constitution calls for a public system of education, not a taxpayer-funded private system.” Maher wants the state to eliminate school performance grades (A to F) because "they’re only measures of poverty at schools." He said it should be replaced with a system that includes "equity measures" showing whether a school is disproportionately suspending some groups and if it’s providing students equal access to academic opportunities.

Constance Lav Johnson
"Education consultant" and relentless self-promoter Constance Lav Johnson touts herself as an expert on education and political matters and as publisher of the online CityPolitical Magazine. She announced her candidacy for superintendent on February 1. She promotes herself as the principal force in something called the Johnson Burton Learning Center, which appears to exist mainly to offer events and seminars starring Constance Lav Johnson. She does emphasize eleemosynary concern for students who struggle in low-performance schools because too few public officials give a damn, but her claims of having been a classroom teacher and school administrator come without detail and seem mighty sketchy. She raised eyebrows at a Democratic candidate forum in Raleigh in early October by suggesting that school safety may require the deployment of National Guard troops. She ran in the Democratic primary for Charlotte mayor in 2017 under the name Constance Partee Johnson, participated in some but not all of the mayoral debates, received just a smidge over 300 total votes, and proved a very sore loser. Under the name Constance L. (Conny) Johnson, she ran for the NC Senate (District 34) in 2014 and took just under 34% of the vote against Andrew Brock.

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Keith Sutton

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Wake County school board vice chairman Keith Sutton announced on the Feb. 16 episode of “Education Matters,” a weekly show of the Public School Forum of North Carolina. Sutton is in his 10th year on the Wake school board and was board chairman when Wake County voters approved an $810 million school construction bond referendum in 2013. Sutton is an "education innovation consultant" with FocusED, LLC, a firm he started in 2017 to support organizations in improving and transforming education. Before then, he was excellence director for BEST NC, a business coalition focused on education. He has also served as executive director of the state NAACP and president of the Triangle Urban League. Sutton has said that charter schools are here to stay, but he’s against them in the current form because of “re-segregating” traditional public schools and taking funding. He’s against vouchers, saying they’re venues for families to get a privileged education. One of the changes the GOP-led General Assembly made was to require every public school to get an annual A through F letter grade that’s primarily based on how many of their students are passing state exams. Sutton points out that nearly every school with a D and F grade is in poor and minority communities. State leaders need to address the issues of race and poverty to help raise student achievement. “The leadership of our General Assembly has failed to acknowledge that race and poverty have a direct impact on student outcome and student achievement,” Sutton said.
Jen Mangrum

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Jen Mangrum announced March 4. She started her education career as a classroom teacher, working from 1987 to 1999 in Onslow County Schools and later Guilford County Schools. She would go on to become a professor at NC State University, where she created the elementary education program. Mangrum achieved a good deal of prominence in 2018 for running against the most powerful Republican in the state, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, primarily on the issue of how badly public education has fared under Republican control. Mangrum has criticized vouchers as a “scary” development "because parents are using the money to attend private schools where the curriculum is not based on science or fact." She said she’s “anti-charter” because she said it causes resegregation and takes money away from traditional public schools. “Charter schools are a place for families to escape,” Mangrum said. “They’re white flight. They’re re-segregating our schools all over again.”  (I contributed to Mangrum's race against Phil Berger in 2018, and I have contributed to her current campaign for superintendent.)

Former state Department of Public Instruction division director Amy Jablonski had been another contender for the superintendent job until last Sunday when she dropped out of the race and endorsed Mangrum.

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