Education

NC superintendent calls for more broadband Internet, changes to teacher compensation

Posted September 15, 2021 4:38 p.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2021 4:55 p.m. EDT

pandemic classroom, classroom generic

— North Carolina Superintendent Catherine Truitt released her four-part strategic plan Wednesday, focusing on literacy, support services, testing and accountability, and investing in personnel.

The plan in part reflects inequities and challenges amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. It harnesses the resources of the new Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration, created this year to address learning disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Some of the strategic plan — called Operation Polaris — is already under way, including teacher training for new, research-based reading instruction.

Other goals would require significant investment over time, such as offering universal free breakfast and lunch at schools by 2025 or increasing student and staff access to “social-emotional professional staff” by 5% each year for five years.

Working groups will continue to meet on the aspects of the plan while the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration and the renamed Office of District implement it.

Truitt often discusses improving North Carolina students’ literacy during State Board of Education meetings. Before being elected last November, one of Truitt’s six priorities was “research-based early literacy strategies.”

The literacy aspect of the strategic plan stresses:

  • training educators in research-based methods of teaching students to read
  • implementing new literacy instruction standards based on “the science of reading” by June 2022
  • districts’ use of individual learning plans for students by the end of this year and, by next August, using literacy intervention plans for struggling students

Last month, the State Board of Education signed a $49.7 million contract with Voyager Sopris Learning to train pre-kindergarten through fifth grade teachers on a new, research-based reading program.

Truitt’s plan for student support services calls for numerous investments:

  • universal free breakfast and lunch
  • increasing access to “social-emotional professional staff” by more than 25%
  • increasing the number of homes with high-speed Internet access by more than 30%
  • addressing 5% each year of school districts’ identified needs in the Five-Year Facility Needs Survey

That survey, released last month, outlined $12.8 billion in needs; 5% of that would be $640 million.

Counties are charged with maintaining facilities and many have approved bond issues for facilities, but the survey intends only to capture the needs not currently covered by bond issues.

The plan notes several things that the goals depend on, including the North Carolina General Assembly’s available funding and “openness to recommendations.”

Truitt lists several goals for reforming accountability and testing:

  • revising the School Report Card, which is the public portrait of a school’s students, performance, expenses and disciplinary measures, among other things
  • defining student success and outline multiple ways of measuring that success

Lastly, Truitt’s plan outlines plans to invest in school personnel and “transform” the hiring pipeline.

It emphasizes educators’ competency and skills in multiple ways:

  • pushing to compensate educators based on competencies, skills and evidence of their impact on their students’ learning
  • changing the licensure process to include progression based on competency and skills.

To achieve those goals, the plan notes the department will need to develop means of measuring competency, skills and student learning.

The plan also calls for several items related to hiring:

  • tracking job vacancies statewide
  • developing a teacher apprenticeship program
  • calling for flexible compensation models to help hire for critical need positions
  • supporting various programs that create pathways for people to become teachers
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