Mark Johnson - Superintendent of Public Instruction | Candidate Questionnaires - Statewide | Indy Week
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Mark Johnson - Superintendent of Public Instruction 

Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark Johnson

Campaign website: www.reMARKableschoolsNC.com

Phone number: 336-893-9284

Email: mark@remarkableschoolsnc.com

Years lived in state: 10

1. 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? 

A New Education Direction for NC – Mark will support good local initiatives over the demands put on teachers by bureaucrats in Raleigh in order to address challenges like NC’s teacher shortage and to better support teachers in the classroom. Mark will reform the system of over-testing created by the incumbent Superintendent.

21st Century Education Innovation for teachers – Mark will support the smart, measured use of technology in the classroom as a tool for teachers and students.

College and Workforce Preparedness for students – Mark will support teachers and local leaders to provide meaningful diplomas to students instead of just working towards a high graduation rate.

The incumbent Superintendent claims the NC graduation rate has increased “to an all-time high” and that it is one of the most important measures of public education, but what do those diplomas mean?

Almost half of graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT.

Two-thirds of graduates who enter a two or four-year institution are not capable of finishing in less than six years.

Nearly half of graduates enrolled in community colleges need to take remedial courses because they are not prepared for community college classwork.

While the graduation rate for African American students is up to 83% in recent years, Atkinson does not tell you that only 35% of African American students obtain at least the minimum ACT score required for admission into the UNC system of colleges.

Over 40% of employers in NC cited a “lack of education credentials” as one of their top challenges when seeking good candidates for good jobs. 

See http://best-nc.org/ncedfacts/; 2016 Career and College Ready Progress Report by NC DPI

2. 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.

Mark taught at West Charlotte High School, and now serves as an elected leader of one of NC’s largest school districts.  As a former teacher now serving on a local school board, Mark champions worthwhile professional development and career advancement opportunities for teachers and principals in his district.  Mark supports teachers and good local leaders.  One prominent example is the effort in Mark’s district to restart the lowest performing elementary school.

Despite the hard work of staff at Cook Elementary, the reading proficiency for third grade through fifth grade is only ten percent. When school started in August, Winston-Salem became home to the new “Cook Literacy Model School.” This program offers more instructional hours, a longer school year, more focused literacy programing, insightful professional development for teachers, curriculum and testing flexibility, and much more robust community outreach.  

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

Public education should provide every student with the opportunity to get a great education, work hard, and reach their American Dream.  Mark taught at a school where the majority of students came from poverty. He now helps lead a district with over 50,000 students.  Mark’s platform focuses on fixing problems at the Department of Public Instruction created by the incumbent Superintendent and better supporting teachers in the classroom.

The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty. Education is the great equalizer of opportunity. Every American should have the opportunity to work hard and reach their American Dream. A good education, whether it be vocational or college-prep, is the best pathway to such achievement. North Carolina’s constitution even mandates that its “people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.”

If a constitutional mandate cannot motivate people, then perhaps self-interest might. We can invest now, or pay a greater price later.

When we provide a great education, today’s students will be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs making their own wealth, buying their own homes, growing the economy, and being the best parents to their own students – fostering a cycle of success for future generations.  

Mark believes we have a moral obligation to urgently solve this education crisis. 

At West Charlotte High School, Mark taught a 17 year old 9th grader who was usually more interested in skipping class than learning. One day, however, after seeing the rest of the class excited to be engaged, he wanted in and decided to work on his silent reading exercises. It’s a teacher’s dream moment, and Mark sought to contain his excitement as he handed his student the 9th grade-level book. The excitement was short-lived when the student waved Mark over a few minutes later. “Mr. Johnson, I can’t read these words.” 

A teacher’s greatest moment became our greatest fear, realizing that the status quo had already failed this young man.

4. Teacher pay has become a hot-button political issue, particularly in the gubernatorial race. What is clear is that teachers’ salaries have risen since their nadir a few years ago, and the state now ranks forty-first in national teacher pay where it once ranked forty-seventh. But critics argue that the legislature’s efforts have not been sufficient. How would you work to improve teacher pay in North Carolina, and how could you persuade teachers to stay in (or come to) North Carolina? 

Teacher pay is important and needs to keep increasing.  We must also stop simply saying we should treat teachers like professionals and do it! Reduce the burdens of paperwork and over-testing. Provide worthwhile professional development and career growth opportunities.

The incumbent Superintendent has been promising reform for her system of over-testing for years, but our teachers and students have no results, just talk. DPI must “change our school accountability system to focus on how students are doing each day rather than just how students perform on state tests at the end of a course or a school year.” – June Atkinson in 2010 (Atkinson’s blog 10/13/2010) DPI is “at the edge of having a comprehensive, balanced assessment system. This system of testing will focus on how students are doing on a daily basis, rather than only on how students are performing at end of the year on an end-of-grade or end-of-course test.” – June Atkinson in 2011 (Atkinson’s blog 07/22/2011) These promises with no results continue into her 2016 campaign.  

Further, under the incumbent Superintendent, NC had a backlog of more than 7,000 teacher licenses. Teachers receive only a fraction of their entitled pay until they obtain their licenses from DPI.  Unfortunately, under the incumbent, there was a backlog of over 7,000 teachers each waiting for a license from DPI as of March 2016, with some teachers being forced to wait over six months before DPI got their licenses to them. Each teacher has to pay a fee to cover the cost of obtaining a license. Even the CFO of DPI has admitted that some teachers leave NC as a result. http://www.morganton.com/news/teachers-in-burke-dealing-with-licensure-backlog/article_cb26e87c-f116-11e5-b74f-1fd90049b768.html

5. This year’s budget increased education funding, which had been below pre-recession levels (adjusted for inflation), by $500 million. Do you believe this increase adequately meets the needs of the state—and especially its fast-growing metro districts? In your role, how would you work with the legislature to improve funding for North Carolina schools? 

Many teachers must spend their own money on classroom supplies.  NC needs a state Superintendent who actually works to lobby the General Assembly to address these issues in education.

The incumbent Superintendent, a Democrat, tells different stories to different audiences. When interviewed by the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association, a Tea Party group, she said that she works well with the Republican General Assembly and wants to continue to work with them. (CCTA interview 03/08/2016) Other statements paint a very different picture. She recently served us this quote regarding the General Assembly: "It hurts us in our capacity to help improve student achievement and growth in schools that really need it." (www.ncpolicywatch.com 8/4/16)

6. Digital classrooms are becoming necessary for children to be able to maintain a high level of learning. How would you help North Carolina’s students continue to make this transition? What sort of changes and improvements would you like to see made in order to make North Carolina schools more technologically advanced? 

North Carolina is investing heavily in classroom technology. But without worthwhile professional development for educators (i.e. training on how to use that great technology), that technology could go unused rather than tools to expand everyone’s potential!

A teacher in Guilford County said that professional development programming conducted by DPI “was so boring” that she “wanted to pull [her] hair out.”  Failing to provide meaningful training hurts teacher morale and skillfulness.

7. Recently released test scores showed modest statewide improvements in math and science. But these scores also highlight the disparity in achievement between schools and school districts. Why do you think some schools perform better than others? As the superintendent of the state, how would you work to turn around the state’s lowest performing schools? 

Poverty plays a big role, but we can support our teachers and local school leaders to overcome it. Support teachers, not testing.  Support good local initiatives over bureaucratic demands.  Increase access to 21st century innovative learning.

8. Lawmakers in recent years have expanded the use of charter schools and private-school vouchers—including vouchers for schools that do not admit LGBTQ students. Do you support this expansion? Do you think private schools that accept public money should be allowed to discriminate against gay and trans students? What should the state be doing to bolster traditional neighborhood schools, if anything? 

School choice is a blessing for many students living in poverty. However, if a school is not hitting its marks, it should be held accountable.  We must improve traditional neighborhood schools. Support teachers, not testing.  Support good local initiatives over bureaucratic demands.  Increase access to 21st century innovative learning.

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

Support teachers, not testing.  Support good local initiatives over bureaucratic demands.  Increase access to 21st century innovative learning.

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.

Mark will criticize the poor leadership and double-talk of the incumbent Superintendent and other similar politicians.  More of the same cannot be the only option for NC students and educators.


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