Joe Johnson | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Joe Johnson 

Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Joe Johnson
Date of Birth: February 25, 1982
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: Candidate, The Committee to Elect Joe Johnson
Years lived in North Carolina: 25 1/2

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the board. If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

  1. Accountability and Assessment: If elected I will work daily with all of those involved in our educational system to create and implement an educationally sound and researched-based accountability and assessment system. Our testing system must work for the students, teachers and families of North Carolina by providing accurate and timely information on student progress. We can find a better and more efficient way to assess student achievement in our state.

  2. All Students Succeed: We must recognize in North Carolina that every student cannot be forced into the same mold. In other words, not every student is meant to go to college. We must expand and truly support vocational and technical education solutions to allow all students to succeed. I will advocate for these programs that allow for our students to succeed no matter the direction of their future educational plans.

  3. New Leadership: I believe that a major issue facing North Carolina’s educational system is a State Superintendent that is not engaged in the policy process or the management of the Department of Public Instruction. I will work daily to ensure that the Department of Public Instruction is the most responsive and responsible agency in state government. We must become a service-oriented agency willing to work with local school districts to meet their needs. Additionally, I will work each day for the people of North Carolina, taking an active role in the policy process and an active role in managing the day-to-day operations of the Department of Public Instruction. As statewide elected officials we must become more involved in the needs of the people we serve.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

Prior to resigning to run for State Superintendent I served as the Director of Public Affairs at the Henderson County Sheriff's Office in Hendersonville. In this capacity I managed all aspects of public information, management of the nearly 11 million dollar budget, alternative funding sources and policy issues. I also served as the chief political advisor for the Sheriff of Henderson County. Prior to my service with the Henderson County Sheriff's Office, I served as the Deputy Director of Operations at Western Carolina Produce, Inc., which is a successful local agriculture business based in Hendersonville. I also served in positions at Montreat College, the National Student Pledge Against Gun Violence and Eno River Media Production. As State Director of the National Student Pledge Against Gun Violence I learned the importance of working with others and building relationships across party lines to create a strong and positive message for all in North Carolina. I am a member of the National Information Officers Association, the American Society for Public Affairs and the National Center for Public Performance Management. Over the years I have served on the Administrative Board at Central United Methodist Church and the Board of Directors for North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Education Fund. In an effort to make my community and region better, I sit on several Boards, including: the Henderson County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, the Council on Aging for Henderson County, the Dispute Settlement Center of Henderson County, Crimestoppers of Henderson County and Eno River Media Production Corporation of America. In addition, I am a member of the Leadership Team for the United Agenda for Children of Henderson County. I also volunteer, from a distance, with research efforts at the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research, which is located at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

All of these opportunities have prepared me to be an effective leader at the Department of Public Instruction. I understand how to prepare a budget, manage that budget and be accountable to the taxpayer. Additionally, I have learned the importance of working with others, across party lines, to create the strongest solutions to the problems we face today. Most importantly, I have learned how to listen. Together we will make a difference for all in North Carolina, but we must listen to each other and work to build bridges.

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

I believe that we must live our lives deliberately and passionately for other people, working hard each day to give our last full measure of devotion to find a better way. I believe in building bridges – not tearing them down. I believe that the common solutions we can find for our common problems are more important than making a political point. I believe that government is a place where people can come together to find those common solutions. Together we will strengthen our educational system and offer true to hope and a bright future for all North Carolinians.

My past work and volunteer experiences have taught me the importance of building bridges. Working with others on issues facing society has been a hallmark of my past experiences. In order to be successful strengthening our educational system we must have an open and honest discussion, involving each participant in the process.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I, too, believe in building a just society throughout North Carolina. There are many issues facing North Carolina that are directly connected to education that many of our leaders refuse to discuss. For instance, according to several sources there are over 400,000 children in North Carolina that live in poverty. If our children do not know where their next meal is coming from or where they will sleep – they will never truly be successful in the classroom.

If elected, I will discuss and raise these tough issues. If we do not talk about them we will never be able to find a solution to these important issues. If elected officials are unwilling to talk about these tough issues, such as child poverty, then we must replace them with people that are willing to tackle these issues.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Inevitably, there will be personal differences of opinion from time to time between the voters of North Carolina and myself. It is my hope that by having an open administration, by being available to the voters of North Carolina and by working each day to truly find that better way I can convey their needs in the halls of our state government. It is also my hope that by working together we can truly make a lasting difference for the future of North Carolina.

6. In paying for new schools and other educational needs, what role would you like to see assigned to:

Property taxes? Property taxes allow local governments the necessary funding they need to fund all county departments, including school districts, through the regular budgetary process. It is my belief that this process should continue. Impact fees? I believe that impact fees are a funding solution that counties should be able to consider on a county-by-county basis. It might work for some and not for others, but I believe they should at least be given the opportunity to consider it. Year-round schools? Year-round schools have proven successful in many locations, specifically those schools challenged by the issue of poverty. As a supporter of local control I believe that school districts should be allowed and given the freedom to decide what works best for their district, considering all options. Additionally, it is a great use of resources. If we are going to build school facilities we should use those facilities as much as possible. Sales tax? The use of a sales tax is yet another potential funding source for our school systems. I believe as we move forward in a tight economy and tight budgets we should consider all reasonable funding methods. Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods? As State Superintendent I will work to find any inefficiencies in the budget for the Department of Public Instruction. Any funds that we can save I will directly put back in the classroom. Future money should not be used to feed a machine at the Department of Public Instruction when classrooms throughout North Carolina desperately need funding. Additionally, I believe the North Carolina Education Lottery should be distributed to benefit all North Carolina students. These funds were intended to supplement existing funds, not supplant. I will fight daily for an equitable distribution of these lottery funds, to include local control of how these funds are spent.

7. The No Child Left Behind Act has set a goal that all students would be proficient in reading and math by 2013-14. Specifically, what can the Superintendent of Public Instruction do to help the schools that didn’t make their AYP? Secondly, what is your opinion on NCLB’s emphasis on standardized testing? Is NCLB a fair and effective program? Is there a better way to evaluate students and schools? What can be done to help low-performing schools?

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction can work directly with the State Board of Education and the North Carolina General Assembly to ensure that the schools that need extra help receive the funding, and more importantly the resources, they need to help every student reach his/her potential. I believe the emphasis that the No Child Left Behind Act places on standardized testing is negative and wrong. I believe our teachers feel forced to teach to a test and are no longer allowed to do what they do best – teach. No, I do not believe that the No Child Left Behind Act is a fair and effective program. I believe it places unreal expectations and pressures on students, teachers and families around North Carolina. Additionally, the necessary funds and resources are not allocated from the federal level to aid in the progress of the program. Accountability and assessment are extremely important components of the educational environment and yes; we can find a better way. Our new accountability and assessment system will truly be used as a measurement tool, providing needed information to the students, teachers and families of North Carolina, while removing the high-stakes environment that we have currently created.

The Department of Public Instruction and personnel within the Department of Public Instruction can truly become a service-oriented agency. That is the first step in helping low-performing schools. We will have a new attitude if I am elected State Superintendent. We will work with all school districts throughout North Carolina, on their level, to come up with solutions that best meet their needs. Once we have created that positive, working relationship we will be able to work within each school districts and help pull each school up and truly leaving no child, no teacher, no parent and no school behind.

8. What is your opinion of the 2007 personal leave bill, which, had it passed, would have allowed teachers to take personal days without being docked $50 in pay? What guidance would you give state legislators on crafting a bill?

I support the 2007 personal leave bill and the intent of the bill. We have an obligation to take care of our teachers in North Carolina. We ask them to do the most, educate our children – our future, and we must each day look out for their interests. I will gladly work with legislators from both parties to ensure that the needs of our teachers are met.

9. Special-needs and gifted children present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is meeting the needs of these children. How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed?

There are two main issues facing special-needs and gifted children all across North Carolina: money and space. Programs that require special formats and small group time with students require the needed space, funding and resources to be successful. That being said, we must review each program in North Carolina and ensure that our dollars are being spent on programs that work and on programs that have solid results. Many of these programs are federally mandated but are not supported by the necessary federal dollars. As State Superintendent, I will lobby the federal government for the necessary financial resources to come into North Carolina to ensure the success of these necessary programs.

10. What steps, if any, would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates?

First and foremost we must recognize that every student can succeed in North Carolina. We must dedicate the resources to address the needs and the drive of each student at an early age. We cannot wait until high school to identify a student as a potential dropout or at-risk student. It is imperative that we allow our students to be successful at their level, whether that is through pursuing a college path, or working towards a sound career and technical education path. Also, it is important that we give our teachers the necessary time to work with students to help them explore educational opportunities and to grow as learners.

11. More North Carolina students speak English as a Second Language. How can schools improve bilingual skills in all students—native English speakers included? What funding and teaching resources would the state need to make these improvements?

I firmly believe it is important for all students to have a sound and strong education throughout North Carolina, regardless of race or socio-economic status. I strongly believe it is important for all students in our public school classrooms to be proficient speakers of English. Our English as a Second Language curriculum must be structured and model the Standard Course of Study, allowing non English speaking students the opportunity to learn with classmates while they are learning to speak English.

For native English speakers, I believe that learning a second language should be a choice. I believe that learning a second language is important in our ever-growing global economy; however, I firmly believe that whether or not to learn that second language is a personal, family decision for each student.

12. Some school districts, such as Wake County, have requested waivers for class sizes. What is your opinion of these waivers and under what conditions should exceptions be made? What alternatives could be used to keep class sizes at optimal levels? What teacher-student ratio would you suggest?

I believe that smaller class size at any level is the best way to go. Research has proven that smaller class sizes provide a better learning environment for all students. That being said, we face major funding and space issues throughout North Carolina. To reach optimal class size levels we must have the available space and the teachers to meet these needs. It is important to remember that success based on class size is also relative to the make-up of each class, the resources available in the local school district and commitment of parents to ensure their child succeeds.

I believe with any law, we should try diligently to meet the requirements and specifications of that law to the best of our abilities. Waivers should only be granted in extreme circumstances.

13. Several charter schools are failing or need significant improvement. What is your view on charter schools? Should the current cap on their number remain or be increased/decreased? What additional accountability should be required of these schools?

I believe that parents must do what they feel is best for their child or children in their respective situations. I encourage parents to look at all options (traditional public schools, public charter schools, etc) as they plan their child’s educational journey. I do support an increase in the current cap on charter schools in North Carolina. I believe that when the initial bill was written the cap should have been set at 230 charter schools or the equivalent of 2 charters per public school system. As State Superintendent, I will advocate for incrementally increasing the number of charter schools in North Carolina to reach this goal by 2012. This plan will place North Carolina, aggressively, near the top of states that place a cap on charter school creation. It is my intention to involve the University of North Carolina system as well as the North Carolina Community College system in the discussions around the creation of many of these new charter schools.

As with any entity that receives any public funding I will demand accountability. Charter schools, just like traditional public schools, must be accountable for their financial statements, student performance, safety and security as well as aspects of teacher certification. I think we can all agree that while choice is an American tradition, we must have choice with accountability.

Families and individuals that support charter schools and school choice will always have a place at the table in my administration. I firmly believe that we function better as a state and as a society when all voices are heard and all aspects of a conversation are held openly.

14. The Johnston County School District recently banned one book and further scrutinized its library collection for other books it deemed unacceptable. What is the state’s role in evaluating districts’ efforts to ban books? What is your opinion of book banning in public schools?

As an avid reader, I strongly oppose efforts to ban any book in the public school setting. As State Superintendent, I will strongly caution any school district about banning books.

15. The N.C. Education Lottery has failed to generate revenues for schools as originally estimated. What is your opinion of using lottery money for education? If you support it, how can schools claim a larger piece of the revenues that are coming in? If you don’t support it, how do you propose to make up the revenue?

Yes, I do support the North Carolina Education Lottery, as long as it supplements current education funding and does not supplant current education funds. I believe that we must be transparent about lottery funding and remove the secrecy behind this process.

I strongly believe in a streamlined approach to funding that would allow for funds to be distributed on a per student basis to each school system and remove the current system which is confusing to most people that research it. Local school districts would then have control over how their lottery dollars are spent locally, because what is need on one end of the state will not necessarily be the same need on the other end of the state.

I also believe that a certain percentage of these lottery funds, once distributed to local districts, should be reserved for scholarships available to students to continue their education.

16. As member of the Council of State, you would have input on the issue of the death penalty, including the execution protocol, which was taken up by the Council last year. Do you feel qualified to vote on such issues? If so, how would you vote on the execution protocol and other death penalty matters that may come before the Council? And is the Council of State an appropriate body to deliberate these issues?

No, I do not feel qualified to vote on such an issue. I do not believe there is any person on the Council of State qualified to vote on such as issue, aside from the North Carolina Attorney General. As someone who believes the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances, I acknowledge the importance of these questions and any issues surrounding the use of the death penalty in North Carolina.

I believe the Council of State is not an appropriate body to deliberate this issue without significant guidance. In the future I believe a special commission should be created, guided by the Attorney General, to thoroughly review the issues, present their findings and present their recommendation(s) to the Council of State. Additionally, I feel that each member should conduct his/her own thorough research on the issue before casting a vote.

These are serious issues that require serious and thoughtful research, consideration and conversation before making a final decision. This is a perfect example of how we should involve as many voices in the conversation as possible while moving to a decision.

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