April 7, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
In First Official TV Appearance, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction
Candidate James Barrett Highlights How to Rebuild Respect, State’s Great Public Education
CHAPEL HILL, NC—In his first official television appearance, James Barrett, 2020 candidate for N.C. state superintendent of public instruction, explained on Saturday’s “Education Matters” what he will bring to the job as superintendent and leader of the state’s department of public instruction (DPI).
“I believe that every student can be successful,” said Barrett, who is in his eighth year on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, including two years as chair. “As a school board member, sometimes we see kids at their lowest, because they’re appealing some suspension or something. When I get to see those same kids walk across the graduation stage, or get some award for some achievement, I know that every kid can be successful, and that motivates me. That motivates me every day in the work of the school board.”
Research consistently shows how much relationships matter in education, Barrett said—between students and teachers, among the teaching staff, and between teachers and administrators.
“The state superintendent can’t force every teacher to have a great relationship with every student, but we can be a model within DPI,” Barrett said. “And so [with] my management experience, I know that I can restore the relationships that exist with the department of public instruction. I know that my policy experience, listening to teachers, the background that I have in that—I know that we can do a lot to restore respect for teachers, and build a relationship with all of the teachers across the state. And then I also have an advocacy background, and I believe strongly that the state superintendent should be an advocate for all of our schools across the state, and rebuild the relationship that exists between the schools and the community, and when we do that, we will once again have the greatest public school system in the country.”
Responding to questions from show host Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, Barrett touched on:
Testing: “I think we need to take a step back and think about what assessments are for. The first thing that we need assessments for is that students know where they stand—it’s a motivation factor for them. Second, teachers need to know where our students are so they can guide instruction. And public policy is really the third reason we do assessments, and it is the least important reason. Unfortunately, all the conversations we have today are how we measure schools, how we give them grades—that’s the least important reason to do testing. It’s not about how we allocate money, it shouldn’t be about how we pay teachers. It should be about the kids knowing the motivation for what they need to do, and teachers need to know what they need to do next.”
Challenges he hears from the teachers he listens to around the state: “The biggest thing that comes up these days is mental health resources. Mental health is a huge challenge across all the schools across the state.” Barrett said he hears concerns about students living in poverty and the trauma linked to that, and the stress on students in high-achieving schools to constantly achieve more. “We need mental health support in each and every one of our schools.”
The five issues teachers are focusing on for May 1 planned teacher protests: “I think they’re all very reasonable asks. They address the mental health issues; they also address paying our classified staff that don’t get paid enough and bringing them up to a living wage, which the state did for other employees outside of schools. There are a lot of really important things in there, and I support all those asks. If our legislature was really listening to teachers, they wouldn’t have to be marching. It may be disruptive for families, but it’s for the long-term benefit of all of our schools.”
Taxpayer money for private school vouchers: “I don’t understand why that’s even constitutional. We have a constitution that says the General Assembly will provide for a single public school system, and now we’ve got a completely unaccountable, separate [place] where public money [is] going. That is not the same as a common good, and I don’t support that at all.”
Charter schools: “I think we have to focus on quality for all of our schools. Charter schools have to be high-quality, and one of the ways they claim they can get the high quality is because they have flexibility. Why do district schools not have that same exact flexibility, in order to be able to serve all kids?”
Barrett attended elementary, middle, and high school in public schools in North Carolina, as did his wife and children. The son of a public high school teacher, he jokes that he’s “been listening to teachers all my life.” But the need to listen, he says, is no joke.
“From well before my first campaign for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board, I was advocating for improvements and equity in education for our students and teachers. I’ve always said I’ll meet with anyone who asks, and I frequently seek out opinions, especially on issues that affect those who are least-empowered in our schools. Beginning with that first campaign, I give out my phone number everywhere I go—919-590-5754—and truly believe in the power of listening to and then advocating for those in our schools.”
Alongside his elected office and longtime volunteer experience as a youth group leader, basketball and baseball coach, school tutor, and community organizer for social justice, Barrett has spent his career in corporate information technology leadership, managing large teams and projects with significant budgets—crucial skills for a state superintendent overseeing more than $13 billion in public school spending across the state and 1,000 employees in DPI.
Education is the foundation of North Carolina’s economy, education is a common good, and every child has a right to receive a quality public school education, Barrett said.
For more information, please visit BarrettForSchools.com; to interview James Barrett, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 919-590-5754.