June Atkinson - Superintendent of Public Instruction | Candidate Questionnaires - Statewide | Indy Week
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June Atkinson - Superintendent of Public Instruction 

Name as it appears on the ballot: June Atkinson

Campaign website: www.drjuneatkinson.com

Phone number: 919.818.7209

Email: jatkinson9@nc.rr.com

Years lived in state: 44 years

In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing North Carolina’s next superintendent of public instruction?  If elected, how would you address them?

Issue 1

Since 2010, enrollment in public teacher preparation programs has dropped by 30 percent.  The General Assembly has eliminated one of the most effective programs of recruiting some of brightest young people into education.  Teachers are leaving the profession or moving to other states at alarming numbers.  Baby boomer teachers are retiring.   Effective teachers are key to student achievement and learning.  One of the biggest issues we face is the recruitment and retention of effective teachers at a time when research is very clear about the importance of teachers. 

Ways I will continue to address the issue includes the following strategies:

Continue to use the bully pulpit to bring attention to the issue. For example, just recently I appeared before a NC House of Representatives education committee to present a comprehensive plan for teacher compensation.  I called for a 10 percent across- the- board raise as the first step in developing a comprehensive approach.  Over ten media outlets covered my request for higher salaries.  

Work with public school supporters and General Assembly to find a way to institute another version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program

Continue to form and support coalitions with groups supporting public schools and our teachers.  Provide facts to them that can be shared with citizens.

Speak to civic groups about the facts surrounding teacher salaries.

Share statistics about teacher pay on social media.

Highlight teacher and student success stories.

Update marketing toolbox for local school districts to use in publicizing the issue and engaging parents.

Keep the issue in the forefront of legislators.

(Note: According to a recent survey, most North Carolinians believe teacher salaries should be increased―an indication that the publicity about teacher salaries is having an impact on public opinion.)

Issue 2

With passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the State Board of Education has an opportunity to develop a new accountability and testing system that will include measures beyond just test scores.  The law also gives greater flexibility in how testing is done in a state.  Given the history of No Child Left Behind, North Carolina will live with these decisions for a long time.  

My approach to manage and lead the process―

Continue with the pilot now underway to change the testing program whereby students and teachers get immediate feedback from shorter tests given at least three times a year.  This approach also has a potential advantage of saving school districts money that is now being spent on benchmark testing.  If pilot is successful, develop and implement a timeline to encompass all required testing of ESSA.  

Give multiple opportunities for public input from educators, higher education representatives, parents, students, business people, legislators, and others about what should be NC’s accountability system.

Use feedback to draft options for State Board of Education’s consideration

Work with other states to get ideas and innovative solutions.  (As past president of the chief state school officers, I have the network in place to learn from other states’ approaches to address ESSA requirements.) 

Work with the U.S. Department of Education to get North Carolina’s plan approved.

Issue 3

Much work has been done to disparage public schools and promote privatization. Public educators have fewer resources, more students live in poverty, and educational support positions have been reduced. 

How do we continue to improve student achievement and growth for each child under these circumstances is another major issue.   Certainly, we have failing schools, but the answer is not to starve the schools needing the most help.  We need more resources while making sure that every dollar is spent effectively and efficiently.  At the same time, public schools must use effective marketing strategies to attract parents and their students to enroll and stay in the system.

Other strategies include:

Help local school district develop positive messages about public student achievement and growth.

Work to change the General Assembly’s A-F grading system.  The General Assembly’s mandated formula actually grades poverty rather than student growth.  

Help schools address improved student achievement and growth by continuing to develop online professional development modules to be available to teachers and their principals.  These modules are a part of the statewide instructional improvement system, HomeBase, that was developed by the Department of Public Instruction.

Expand model lesson plans developed by at least 400 teachers and others to help teachers provide quality lessons. 

Continue the focus on teachers of the year and principals of the year to be ambassadors for public education.  

Through local superintendents, invite legislators to visit schools more frequently.

Continue to offer students the opportunity to take career-technical education courses as well as other electives in arts education, etc.  

Make schools more inviting to parents.

Expand business support for schools.

Highlight public schools’ success, for example, our graduation rate has gone from 68 percent in 2004-05 to 86 percent this past year.  At least 35 percent of last year’s graduation class left high school with some college credit.  

What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you have identified.  Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to your current goals.

During my tenure as an educator and state superintendent, I have received over 20+ state and national awards for my contributions to public education and children success, including Champion of Children Award from the North Carolina Association of School Administrators and Inclusive Leadership Award from North Carolina Association of Educators.  I have received the Outstanding Alumni Award from North Carolina State University; Educator Hall of Fame, East Carolina University, and Razor Edge Award from University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  I have been recognized as a national leader by being elected as president of three national educational groups: National Business Education Association (1990s) National Association of Career Technical Directors (2002) and Council of Chief State School Officers (2014-15).

My future goals include increasing the high graduation rate to nearly 100 percent, graduating high school students who will not need remediation when entering community colleges, universities, or workplace; improving reading and mathematics achievement, and having a comprehensive and competitive teacher compensation program.

Evidences of accomplishments related to goals include:

-Moving graduation rate from 68 percent in 2005-06 to another all time high of 86 percent during a time which standards and requirements have been increased.

-Cutting the remediation rates of high school graduates who go to community colleges by almost half in reading and mathematics since 2010.  The remediation rate for high school graduates entering public universities has been reduced by half to under 5 percent.

―Having 35 percent of 2015 high school graduates receiving college credit while they were still in high school.

―Having 140,000 business industry credentials being earned by high school students. 

―Making some progress with General Assembly in developing a comprehensive teacher compensation program with a pilot being funded in 2016.

-Seeing progress in reading achievement as measured by the Nation’s Report Card NAEP) and increase in students taking and receiving passing grades on Advanced Placement courses.

-Helping to move public opinion to gain more support for teacher pay increases and more resources for the classroom, as measured by Elon University and WRAL polls

-Receiving a federal grant of $400 million to help improve student achievement and infrastructure in North Carolina

How would you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I politically define myself as belonging to the party of children and educators.  While running as a Democrat, I put children and educators first in making decisions and working with people to accomplish goals.   For example, while I do not agree with all of the provisions of the General Assembly’s Read to Achieve provisions or the A-F legislation, I have been successful in getting changes made in the original law by working with Republicans.  I have worked across party lines to get the career and college promise as well as the career and college endorsement legislation passed because these laws benefit students.  Members of the General Assembly regularly consult with me even if though there may be disagreement about direction or strategy.  

Teacher pay has become a hot-button political issues, particularly in the gubernatorial race.  What is clear is that . . . . 

I have presented to a North Carolina House of Representatives committee a proposal for a comprehensive teacher compensation plan which calls for a ten percent raise for all teachers or least raise our salaries to be #1 in the southeast.  This comprehensive approach has several layers of funding:

A ten percent increase for all teachers.  

Teacher leader pay for those wanting to combine teaching while assuming leader roles such as new teacher mentors, 11 and 12-month contracts, peer evaluators.  

Extra pay for teams of teachers serving low performing schools 

As stated in my answer for question 1, I will continue to use the bully pulpit to bring more and more attention to North Carolina’s inattention to teacher pay.

I will also uplift teachers by listening to their concerns and by praising their work through social media and at State Board of Education meetings.  In my monthly emails to teachers, I will continue to send positive messages about their work.  I will continue to visit schools and showcase wherever possible, the positive work of teachers.  Also, I will continue my work with business and citizen groups who are willing to speak out for teachers.

I will work to reinstate Master’s pay and a version of the North Carolina Teacher Fellows Program, one of the most successful recruiting program in the nation.  Another strategy is to expand the Teacher Cadet program, a high school program designed to recruit teachers.  

5.  This year’s budget increased education funding, which had been below pre-recession levels (adjust for inflation), by 500 million.  Do you believe this increase adequately meetings the needs of the state. . .?

No, if funding were adequate, North Carolina would not rank in the top five states where teachers have second jobs.  All students would have access to textbooks or digital learning resources, and teachers would not have to spend money from their pockets to buy supplies and materials.  We would not have a waiting list of children who need and want quality pre-school education.   More adults such as school counselors, social workers would be in the school to support children.  Class sizes would be smaller, and each child would have access to extra help and assistance.  Principal pay would not rank 50th in the nation, and we would have funds for professional development―now at a zero funding level.    While funding is not the entire answer, it is a key when implementing research-based practices known to improve student achievement and growth.  Our educational system has made much progress, but we could get better results if we have funds to address some of the needs I have identified. 

I will continue to work with the General Assembly to increase funding for public education.   As in the past, I will speak before General Assembly committees to share the needs of the public schools.  I will also work with education associations such as superintendents’ group, principals, and teachers to gain consensus on the most pressing needs of public schools.  Although funding for textbooks is not what it should be, the coalitions of different groups, including DPI, working with the General Assembly did have some impact on getting at least some textbook funding reinstated last budget cycle.  I will also work with public education support groups, which are growing in North Carolina, to gain more public support in order to influence General Assembly members  

6.  Digital classrooms are becoming necessary for children to be able to maintain high level of learning . . ..

With a contract with the Friday Institute, the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction have approved a digital learning plan with the goal that all classrooms are wireless and that each student has access to digital learning tools.  The plan is online and includes details about the essential elements needed to move schools to be more technologically advanced and to the desired goals for making the necessary transitions.  Teacher and principal professional development is a key.  Having statewide contracts to ensure the lowest costs for schools is another element.   As state superintendent, I would continue to provide leadership to ensure that this detailed plan is carried out.  Working with partners such as MCNC and the Friday Institute is another important element.   (Go to ncpublicschools.org or to the Friday Institute’ website for more details.)

Changes and improvements include having the remaining 39 percent of classrooms equipped with wireless.  Continue to negotiate statewide technology contracts which save school districts’ money.  (We do the work one time for 115 school districts rather than 115 school districts doing the work one time.)  It is estimated that we have saved the school districts over $24 million by our negotiating statewide contracts.  We also need to continue our focus in helping teachers prepare to use technology tools effectively in the classroom and helping principals to be leaders of these efforts.

7.  Recently released test scores showed modest statewide improvement in math and science. . .. Why do you thing some school perform better than others? .

In high achieving schools, students have been enrolled in quality pre-school programs.  Students have more extensive vocabularies when they start kindergarten―an indicator of future success.  In some cases, they have more community and parental support.  Teachers have a demonstrated record for improving student achievement and growth.  An effective principal leads the school, promotes innovation, and creates a quality learning environment for students and teachers.   Each class has adequate resources, and there are high expectations for each child.  Students are required to do higher level, engaging projects rather than a focus on just worksheets.  Students and teachers are given frequent feedback about progress.  Students have access to social workers and other support personnel should they need those services.  The focus everyday is on each child and what can be done to improve achievement and growth.  The environment is inviting. 

Recently, Dr. Gary Henry, a Vanderbilt professor and a third party evaluator of DPI’s work to turn around low performing schools, cited North Carolina’s work as one of the most significant reform efforts in this decade.  (See State Board of Education minutes and the Department’s website to see specifics about the success of our efforts.)   Our efforts demonstrate that we have changed the direction of low performing schools by focusing on a needs assessment, developing plans based on that assessment, customizing support, providing instructional and administrative coaches, and working collaboratively with central office staff.  The process typically takes at least three years depending on the severity of the problems. (See ncpublischools.org for more information.) 

One example of our quality work is that Halifax County, our lowest performance school district six years ago, is no longer the list of the lowest performing schools.  ☺

8.  Lawmakers in recent years have expanded the use of charter schools and private-school vouchers . . ..

For one, among many reasons, I oppose vouchers and their expansion because there is no accountability for the private schools receiving vouchers.  Parents have no accountability measures to determine whether a private school is improving a child’s achievement as compared to a public school.  While I support a parent’s right to homeschool or to send a child to a private school, taxpayers’ dollars should not be used to do so.  Vouchers also have the potential to drain more resources from public schools at a time when many schools need more resources.  We also face a greater potential of public and private schools becoming more and more segregated by race, religion, and ethnic origin. 

I also believe that any school willing to accept public dollars should not be allowed to discriminate against gay and trans students.  I find that practice discriminatory.  

Given current legislation, local school boards must make decisions about traditional neighborhood schools.  I am concerned, however, that I see charters and local school districts in certain areas of state becoming more segregated which is not in the best interest of North Carolina and students.  

9.  What are the keys to making North Carolina public schools stronger in the future?

Quality preschool programs for all of our most vulnerable students

A change in the school calendar to address the summer reading loss of K-3 students

A comprehensive approach to teacher compensation with substantial investments in teacher pay so we can keep and attract people to the profession

A funded system of extra help and assistance for struggling students

Increased principal salaries and a system of support to develop principals, especially to take roles in low performing schools

Time for collaborative work and teacher professional development, based on teacher individual needs

Implementation of the digital learning plan elements

Transitions to competency based credit rather than seat time, assessment being embedded into instruction rather than end-of-year testing, anywhere, anytime learning rather than just a fixed place, personalized learning for each child rather than one size fits all.  

10.  Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Change of the school calendar to one that would allow students to go to school throughout a year, for example, a series of ten weeks of instruction followed by breaks for two to three weeks.   Research tells us that the current calendar may work for adults but not for optimum student learning.  Students lose reading and math progress during the summer, especially children who do not have stimulating summer activities.  With the current calendar, it is difficult to provide extra help and assistance at a time when students can benefit the most.  

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