James Barrett for NC Superintendent

Doing the work

With 3 weeks to go until early voting starts, I’ve been continuing every day to attend political events across North Carolina, working to flip some seats in our General Assembly, and holding meet-and-greets to get my message out. But what really excites me are the meetings where we do “the work.”

I realized this again on Saturday, when the Forsyth County Association of Educators sponsored a “Males of Color” listening session.  Alongside the heartbreaking stories of racism that persists in our schools, we heard hope in the young men and educators who were willing to speak up and engage in the advocacy work that can make a difference.  The state superintendent doesn’t supervise local districts on this, but can enable policies that ensure educators know they have First Amendment protections to speak out like this. And the superintendent should be encouraging these local conversations by showing up and listening to what’s happening across the state.

Tuesday first brought time with the Public School Forum’s Study Group XVII focused on rural education.  We heard from my friend Dr. Eric Houck about how funding inadequacies and inequities exist across our state, which we must solve to meet the needs of all students.  We also heard about ECU’s 2+2 program working with community colleges and local districts to recruit teachers into our rural districts.  ECU acknowledges they could do better in recruiting a diverse population into the program, but in general I’m a strong believer in 2+2 efforts as the lowest-cost way to get teachers the credentials needed to succeed in the classroom.

Then that evening, I went to what was planned to be an NC Justice Center public education presentation.  I’ve attended several of these before (I believe in outside-inside advocacy and support their work), finding them especially useful in learning much more about local conditions from the other attendees. However, this night brought a surprise—when the speaker was delayed, the NAACP attendees who were hosting asked me to speak about the latest on the Leandro case.  I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve read the 300 pages of the court-ordered report and thought a lot about how we’re going to use that roadmap to meet our Constitutional obligations to all students. So I gave my thoughts on the history of Leandro, the impact of the past 10 years of underfunding, the report’s recommendations, and next steps for improving public education.  It was a blast—the NAACP members asked great questions, and I loved this impromptu opportunity to engage on a topic I care deeply about. (The speaker did make it eventually!)

Engaging with and listening to communities has always been my passion, first in community organizing and then in elected office.  Being able to turn those concerns into real coalitions for change for the benefit of 1.6 million students is exciting as I contemplate what’s possible come January 1st next year. I hope you’re excited, too, and I ask for your vote and your support to get there!

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