Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.
When I took office, we launched a statewide North Carolina Education Innovation & Listening Tour. We want to hear directly from educators and community and business leaders on how schools are innovating to help students succeed and of the challenges preventing our system from better meeting the needs of our educators, students and communities. Listening to students, parents and educators is better than only listening to the Raleigh pundits. We heard you and worked to secure some of the tools you said you need to begin transforming our education system to meet 21st century demands.
We heard the need for more equity between urban and rural districts in supporting school construction and teacher recruitment. So, we worked with the General Assembly to secure $105 million for desperately needed new schools in our most economically disadvantaged counties and to reestablish N.C. Teaching Fellows scholarships to support future educators who will teach hard-to-staff subjects.
We heard from parents who wanted greater transparency when comparing their children’s schools. They said school report cards were a good idea, but difficult to understand. So, we completely revamped the report cards at www.schoolreportcards.nc.gov to make them more user-friendly and better tell a school’s full story.
In this hyper-partisan era of disagreement, we heard unanimous demand for more early childhood literacy support. So, we launched a statewide reading initiative, NC Reads, that builds upon programs championed by former N.C. Superintendent June Atkinson (a Democrat) and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (a Republican). Regardless of party affiliation, ensuring all children can read is a moral, societal and economic imperative.
Also, we heard complaints from educators and community leaders about the lack of transparency and accountability at DPI. We worked closely with the General Assembly to secure an investment of almost $30 million to update antiquated software systems used by the state and by local school districts, and we are conducting an operational review of the entire department. These efforts will lead to greater efficiency and transparency, allowing you to better know how your tax dollars support public schools.
We already discovered that more than $15 million at DPI meant to support early childhood literacy across the state never made it to students. Although former DPI officials never provided local leaders guidance for these funds, please rest assured, my team at DPI will ensure money meant for students and teachers gets to them.
While we conduct this important fine-tuning we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.
Our society uses technology to personalize our news, social media, entertainment options, and even fast-food orders. My team and I will start personalizing education while reducing burdens on teachers and reducing over-testing in classrooms. Just as important, we will better support students to follow their chosen path to success that best fits them; whether that be a career after graduation, military service, or attending college. Regardless of which track they choose, we want graduates of our public schools to be ready to move into the passing lane and take the lead.
We are just getting started on our race to improve North Carolina’s public schools, and I am excited to accelerate into 2018. Our state cannot afford to let more time pass with public education on cruise control. Our students, educators, and parents deserve an education system that moves at the speed of the modern world, and we are ready to deliver.
Mark Johnson is state superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.