June Atkinson | 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

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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 almost 86 percent this past year. At least 35 percent of last year’s graduation class left high school with some college credit.

Even with salary increase approved in 2014, teacher pay in North Carolina is ranked 42nd in the nation, nearly $10,000 . . . .
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. 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.

3. Over the past several years, per-public school funding has declined in North Carolina: . . . .

I disagree with these cuts. I will continue to work with the General Assembly to increase funding for public education. Currently, the DPI staff is preparing an expansion budget to present to the State Board of Education for its approval and submission to the Office of State Budget and Management. 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 the 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. While the General Assembly does not always take my advice, members in leadership positions continue to ask for my advice and to share public school needs and priorities.

4. 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 fro 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.)


5. 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.)

6. 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.

7. 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.
8. 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.  
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction

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