James Barrett for NC Superintendent

Leandro/WestEd report response

The recently released Leandro report gives North Carolina a roadmap on how to ensure we deliver a Constitutional public education for all students–and it will require a state superintendent who has all the skills that James has.

James spent part of his holidays reading the 300-page report, and it’s full of food for thought. Here are some of his:

“Superintendent of Public Instruction” probably isn’t the best job title for the work of this role.  In fact, our state constitution gives an even better idea–Chief Administrative Officer of the State Board of Education, responsible for administering the SYSTEM of schools across our state.

The current superintendent is unwilling and unable to lead our public schools in a positive direction, so we can be sure that as chief administrative officer, the next state superintendent will be deeply involved in ensuring our compliance with the 42 recommendations of the report on what our state needs to do better to deliver public education to ALL.

Of the 42 recommendations, 17 can be accomplished with policy work.  While the State Board has ultimate responsibility for public education policy, the superintendent needs to understand how to write policy that fulfills the law but also serves the needs of students and teachers. Just because the law says we can do something doesn’t mean we want our policy to allow that. And where the law is silent, we want policy that helps fill in the gaps. My eight years of school board experience included four years on the policy committee and two as board chair, bringing recommendations to the board that administration could support. ) Those years of debating the fine points on policy issues–from school start times to teacher contracts and a host of other issues directly affecting student achievement and teacher satisfaction–plus many years of studying state and federal policy because it’s fun (!) give me the experience needed to bring strong policies to the state board.

Eleven other recommendations require leadership of the Department of Public Instruction to deliver what DPI does. As the “central office” of central offices, DPI must efficiently provide support to all of the state’s 115 districts in curriculum and common data practices. Given that DPI has limited resources and has been severely damaged under Mark Johnson, my leadership experience–unique among the candidates–will be extremely valuable here for managing large systemic change efforts, prioritizing major programs, and helping high-performing teams streamline processes to maximize value. 

Finally, the remaining 14 recommendations require the General Assembly to do something. Here also, my background in advocacy work–again unique among the candidates–will enable me to fight effectively for the funding our students need and the salary schedules our teachers and principals need. 

Notably, 90% of the recommendations are directly related to skills and experience that I have in spades. The four recommendations that are not cover high-poverty, school-specific situations and principal prep programs that I have less experience in. Only two of the recommendations directly tie to teaching. The work of the state superintendent to deliver a high-quality school system simply is not focused on what we expect teachers to be experts in. What the state superintendent needs, and what I have, are leadership, policy, and advocacy skills–skills that are not dependent on experience in a single classroom.

This critically important and meaningful work excites me so much I’ve been missing some sleep lately–I wake up thinking about how we can get this right and deliver a better future for our state. If voters choose a state superintendent again this year who has to learn leadership on the job, we will lose this window of opportunity to do things the right way while our legislature continues to attempt to drive “reforms” from the General Assembly. I am ready on Day 1, and I ask for your vote.

Please sign up below to stay in touch.  Early voting starts February 13th and the primary will be over March 3rd!

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