Editorial: Superintendent's listening tour premature, needs first to understand the job

Posted February 8

North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson arrives at the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools Education building on Feb. 3, 2017. He was in town for the first stop of his statewide listening tour.

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017; Editorial# 8122
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Mark Johnson, North Carolina’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction had a key priority before he embarked on his “listening tour” -- establishing his leadership of the State Department of Public Instruction.

But the evidence is that he’s been scarce around the department and paid scant attention to the agency’s most senior and knowledgeable leaders. The department’s top deputy is resigning. The chief financial officer -- with 31 years experience under five superintendents, three Democratic and two Republican governors -- is retiring.

It is not a good sign when the CFO walks out the door just days after a new boss takes over.

Johnson has to manage an $8.7 billion budget – 40 percent of the $22.34 billion state general fund budget. It’s a tough job and he needs to be there fulltime and then some.

He should adopt the following goals:

  • Get teacher pay to the national average by the end of his term.
  • Get principal pay to the national average by the end of his term.
  • Create a pipeline for quality teachers by establishing a teaching fellows-like program.
  • Fully fund the state-mandated kindergarten through third grade class-size reductions.
  • Provide statewide pre-K education so all children are ready to learn when they enter school.

Get that done and he’ll be considered a rock star superintendent.

He’s promised to release his own legislative agenda this summer.

This summer? What is he thinking?

We’ll just have to assume that Senate boss Phil Berger told him to stay away form this session. Any agenda that’s presented to the legislature in late summer will be left in the dust of priorities that Berger and the other Republican leaders have already established.

Johnson also has a lot to learn about accountability in government. When it comes to North Carolina’s taxpayer-funded voucher program, he says it is up to the parents of students who receive the government payments to determine if the money is being spent properly. “If the school’s not getting results, parents will take their children out and those schools will close,” he said.

What? It’s the taxpayers’ money being spent, not the parents. Transparency, accountability and standards are all part of public funding programs. The current plan allows taxpayer dollars to go to schools that, for example, prohibit LGBT students and deny admissions to students with gay parents. There are religious tests at some. That’s not to mention ones with no evidence of academic standards.

If the new superintendent supports that nonsense, he should find other work.

His listening tour sessions were held behind closed doors. Holding secret meetings with teachers, business leaders and others on his listening tour is an affront to all of those concerned with education and the conduct of their government. There is nothing anyone should fear from being open and honest in their discussions with the state superintendent.

But even more significantly, there is no reason that anything the Superintendent might say should be kept secret from the citizens he represents. Superintendent Johnson needs to remember that his first obligation is to the people of North Carolina who expect a top quality public education system.

No one needs a listening tour to confirm the obvious.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Teddy Fowler Feb 8, 2017
    user avatar

    Is that all he should have as goals? Everything you listed is MONEY.... and lots of MONEY.... I think we can all agree that dumping more money into education doesn't seem to work.... and btw.... if you people who write these editorials support the nonsense that you write.... then you should find other work.

  • Renee Warren Feb 8, 2017
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    It's the category I fall into as a traveling teacher of traditional Chinese martial arts teaching for local Chinese language non profit schools and the director of martial arts program for a gymnastics facility in North Raleigh. My goal is not to crank out Jackie Chans or Donnie Yens but for kids to adopt the Warrior/Scholar way of life in hopes they grow up to be good responsible, accountable members of society. And hopefully better leaders.

  • Larry Price Feb 8, 2017
    user avatar

    Just a question out of curiosity; no underlying message or anything. What is a cultural activity teacher? I googled it and didn't get much. Do you teach about cultural awareness and that sort of thing?

  • Renee Warren Feb 8, 2017
    user avatar

    And another thing....it is disingenuous to suggest transparency when it comes to tax dollars spent in public education when taxpayers are on the hook for the current court case involving control of power between the new Superintendent and the Board. Just as it's ridiculous to think that there should be transparency of boots-on-the-ground educators offering up their opinions and suggestions. That sort of thing has not ended well for many who tried to make a positive difference.

  • Renee Warren Feb 8, 2017
    user avatar

    As a cultural activity teacher of kids outside of our public system, I have a unique perspective on how our state has done in the past in regards to our education. The seed for discontent lies within parents taking responsibility for raising their child, including overseeing their academic growth. Also, social engineering over the decades bears intentional and unintentional fruits, as well as environmental and medical issues having impacted kids' health thus affecting how they learn hard and soft skills.

    One only has to see Dr. Michio Kaku's epic rant on how the US has the worst education system to know that we have a serious problem. I attended a conference yesterday specifically addressing the economics of each child from cradle to career. If that sounds harsh, remember that public education is a numbers game because each person born is ultimately a unit of measurement in the eyes of economists as to ROI. Perhaps this is one reason for the 'old guard' is making for the exit doors.