James Barrett for NC Superintendent

League of Women Voters/Vote411.org responses

Occupation (This field appears just below your name on the ballot.)         

Computer scientist, public schools advocate/former school board member

Position/philosophy statement (150 characters)

Public education is a common good that must provide equal opportunities for all. We won’t be successful until all the state’s schools are successful.

What do you feel are the most important responsibilities of this office? (1500 char)

The state superintendent needs to lead the Department of Public Instruction in providing support to all districts across the state, especially those that do not have as many resources to succeed as others. In the coming years, this will require rebuilding a department damaged by current leadership. The superintendent must also work cooperatively with the State Board of Education to enact policies that treat educators with respect, sometimes working creatively within the boundaries from the General Assembly.  And the superintendent needs to be the chief advocate for our public schools with communities across the state and with the General Assembly to get them to meet their constitutional requirement to fund a sound, basic education with equal opportunities for all students. Uniquely among the candidates in this race, from my time as a school board member, a social justice advocate, and large-scale people and project manager, I have a track record of success in all three areas. 

How will you prioritize these responsibilities if you are elected. (1500 char)

First, we must eliminate the testing regime that is stressing out students and teachers and painting a narrative of failure in our schools with the public. I would work immediately, collaboratively with all stakeholders, to change from high-stakes to lower-stakes tests that give useful measures of learning and guidance for adjusting instruction. This likely means focusing assessments on standards-based grading—a major change project that would make a positive difference for everyone.

Also, we must focus on state-level policies that can restore respect for the teacher profession. I will work with the State Board of Education to put into policy work similar to what we’ve done in Chapel Hill-Carrboro that restores protections for teachers from at-will firing and supports teachers’ free speech. I would also find the money in DPI’s budget to offer paid parental leave immediately, to model what districts should do for all educators.

Finally, we must increase the focus on school safety, with an immediate budget push on physical security (for example, quick locks on interior doors) and emotional safety, with proper levels of mental health funding as we face a multifaceted student mental health crisis. Our students and educators all need support in the face of the emotional pressure of ongoing lockdowns and drills. I would also focus DPI on providing excellent training to the state on using school resource officers in a positive manner, and on other ways we can improve safety.

What are your plans to work with the NC Legislature to jointly determine the resources available to you and the legal framework of policies that affect how you carry out your responsibilities? (1500 char)

When the court recently adopted the WestEd report as the remedy for the Leandro case that been hanging over our schools for the past 26 years, we received a clear roadmap of changes that are needed to funding and policies in order to meet our constitutional obligations, from a high quality teacher in every classroom to changes needed in our testing program.  I will continue to work with pro-public education legislators to explain to the public the benefits of providing a sound, basic education with equal opportunities for all so that we get adequate funding, and I will rally the public to highlight and put pressure on those in the legislature whose votes have harmed our public schools.  I will also work immediately and cooperatively with the State Board of Education on policy changes that we can make without waiting for the legislature.  Two-thirds of the report falls into this category, and while I understand it will be a change for North Carolina to have such leadership from the State Board, it is within their constitutional responsibilities, and it is a much better place to get educator input on the work and minimize unreasonable mandates that often come from the legislature.  I have the best track record of positive change in this race and will ensure we succeed for all students across our state.


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