DPI chief: Schools broken

North Carolina’s public schools are in serious trouble, says the incoming superintendent, who expressed a sense of urgency in fixing the system.

“Every day that we don’t take bold action for our students is the day our students lose. Every day that we don’t take bold action is the day our teachers lose,” new school Superintendent Mark Johnson said Thursday during a meeting of the State Board of Education.

“Complacency is the antithesis of urgency. So I ask that we not be complacent, and act with urgency in anything that we do,” he said

Johnson is barely settled into his office at the Department of Public Instruction yet is at the center of political controversy because of House Bill 17, which among other matters strips the State Board of Education of some administrative power and gives it to Johnson.

Portions of the legislation may be illegal; the state Constitution empowers the State Board of Education to govern the state superintendent and the Department of Public Instruction. The board has filed a lawsuit, which was scheduled to be heard by three Superior Court judges on Friday. But a notice sent late Thursday by State Board of Education attorneys Bob Orr and Drew Erteschik announced that the hearing is postponed. No alternative court dates were given.

A temporary restraining order filed in December by Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens to block HB 17 will remain in place for the time being, Orr and Erteschik said.

State Board of Education member and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who presided over the Senate during the passage of HB 17, publicly opposes the board’s decision to sue the state.

Thursday, Johnson recited a litany of problems surrounding the state’s public schools.

The state’s approach to education is outdated and burdened by convoluted teaching standards, which need an overhaul, he said. Standardized testing methods don’t work either. Policies must be overhauled.

Johnson’s sense of urgency is driven by first-hand experience with struggling students, he told board members in his kickoff statement.

He cited his time spent as a science teacher at West Charlotte High School.

Education is the only form of escape for underprivileged students, he said, and low-performing schools create a major roadblock for that escape.

Ultimately, the Department of Public Instruction must take ownership of its issues.

“We have to own that there are some students graduating from our schools that we are giving diplomas to who are not prepared for college and the workforce,” Johnson stated.

Innovation is the only way to bring the public education up to 2017 standards, and the State Board of Education must be open to aggressive action — for the sake of students and teachers.

“I will be generous and I will say that this system was designed for students in the 1950s,” Johnson said. “And I will say that as generous because you could probably trace this system that we are using today back to the 1920s — or even earlier. Students of 2017 … need a different level of preparation.”

“Not only is that for the benefit of society, not only is [public education] an obligation by the state constitution, but it’s just the right thing to do by our own moral obligation,” he said.

The board addressed a handful of committee items Thursday before heading into closed session to discuss legal matters.

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey told public attendees — and members of the media — the board would immediately adjourn after coming back into public session. He recommended that people not wait around.


Kari Travis is associate editor and social media specialist at Carolina Journal.

Kari Travis is associate editor and social media specialist at Carolina Journal.

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