Top 10 Issues from Public School Forum of NC

As I love to do most years, I attended the Eggs and Issues breakfast with the Public School Forum. It was sold out as usual with great public ed partners — business leaders, Universities, teachers, parents, media, think-tanks, the Governor’s staff, legislators from both parties, school board members (from Wake and Chapel Hill), even my friend Nervahna Crew of the Wake Soil & Water Board. Thanks to WRAL for the livestream so who knows how many more paid attention.

The first topic of the Top 10 was renewing commitment to public schools for the public good. I’ve always preferred “Common Good”, but that’s semantics. What I love is that we’re focused beyond what schools can do for individual students to the overall benefit we all receive from the success of schools. Echos of NCAE’s push for Strong Students, Strong Schools, Strong Communities here. One of the sub-bullets is to listen to students, teachers, and communities. I have a track record of doing that which I will continue through the campaign and beyond. Join us on Feb 4th for our first Teacher Town Hall to see it in action.

Second topic is TARGET RURAL NORTH CAROLINA’S UNIQUE EDUCATION CHALLENGES. While I don’t fully agree with the Forum’s spin on finance #s (additional local $ doesn’t equate to more overall spending today), I know the under-funding challenges exist and rural communities have no capacity to solve, so we need something from the state. I’ve been listening already to some creative people with ideas about teacher recruitment and retention (did you know that Cumberland Co schools ensures hard-to-staff schools are handled first every year before anyone else is allowed to hire?). And supporting broadband is needed for our communities even beyond schools.

Racial equity comes in at #3 (I don’t think positions indicate rank importance). Our state has viewed this as a local challenge for too long. We have a state board of education ready to work on this — we need partners in the larger advocacy community and DPI to ensure we move the needle for all students. I’m a strong believer that management will get what we measure. At the least, the state can provide training and reporting to help good work here.

Fourth is the funding equity again, but also includes adequacy of funding that the Leandro court case has shown NC falls woefully short on. Plus support for the state bond to address some of our infrastructure needs. I think we need to be careful here to ensure we are focused on students in these conversations and not waste time with fights between adults.

Fifth (again, not in priority order) is what I’ve been calling Respect for teachers. This includes pay, targeted recruitment for areas of need, other HR policies, and an idea I first heard from Graig Meyer — pay teachers in high need areas for 11 months. That gives those teachers a pay bump while expecting time that can be used for lesson planning, professional development, etc.

Second half of the list leans into controversial areas, starting with calling for accountability and transparency in non-district schools. Mr Poston usually includes a preface here about how his daughter went to a charter school. But that seems to have lost its appeal as he made it clear that privatization needs to be pulled back if we want our schools to serve the public good. Great opportunities for the state board and DPI to assert what’s best for students in backing off the virtual charter “pilots” and working with instead of taking over schools with the ISD.

Next was testing — in a couple of weeks I should have a whole blog post about my thoughts here. There is groundwork that Dr Atkinson and Buddy Collins laid, which Mr Johnson has supported through an ESSA waiver, but has not fundamentally changed direction. I’m looking for a great general counsel who will help me stay technically legal while supporting students by focusing on right things in this space.

With BEST NC in the room, Mr Poston took direct aim at the principal pay plan in #8. Kudos to him — we need a plan which supports great principals where they are most needed. Our current schedule doesn’t do that.

Ninth, a good discussion on school safety, with a focus on mental health supports and fierce opposition to arming teachers. Did I mention controversial? They even made a statement about having a real conversation about gun access. Commonsense regulation is possible. Our students’ safety demands it.

Which leaves us with Whole Child, Whole Day. Students today are experiencing greater adverse experiences. They need schools to be ready to handle their trauma. Expanded access to Pre-K rounds this out as well. With my local board experience, I’m ready to help communities work outside schools as well to create meaningful whole day efforts to educate.

As I said, this is a great list of important issues, for the next year and beyond. I would have included career pathways for teachers in the respect topic, and maybe class size chaos which isn’t as fixed as many believe, but otherwise very thorough. As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts. Comment below, contact me through this website, Facebook, or Twitter. Or just call me at 919-590-5754.

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