Superintendent of Public Instruction

The Superintendent of Public Instruction leads public education for kindergarten through twelfth grade. They make sure schools follow state and federal law. The Superintendent of Public Instruction makes decisions about things like school funding, special education, and statewide testing.

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There are 2 candidates for the office of North Carolina Superintendant of Public Instruction.

Catherine Truitt (R)
Jen Mangrum (D)

There were 7 primary candidates for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (2 Republican candidates and 5 Democratic candidates).  The candidates were:

Craig Horn (R)
James Barrett (D)
Catherine Truitt (R)
Constance Lav Johnson (D)
Michael Maher (D)
Jen Mangrum (D)
Keith Sutton (D)
 
Two candidates, Catherine Truitt (R) and Constance Lav Johnson (D), did not respond to our survey, so you will not see them mentioned below. Craig Horn (R), Keith A. Sutton (D), James Barrett (D), and Michael Maher (D) did not win the primary election.  Their answers are preserved below for informational purposes and are marked by a grey background and italic text.
 

All answers are provided in text with audio files for each candidate. To navigate through the questions you may either scroll through this page to read or listen to their answers, or use the links below to jump directly to specific questions.

The primary candidates for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction were each asked the following questions:

The complete audio of all responses for the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s race:

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Question 1: What are your top three priorities?

Craig Horn (R)

1. Focus on Student Outcomes

2. Establish cooperation among all stakeholders by involving a broader coalition in decision-making

3. Improve Teacher & Principal development

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James Barrett (D)

1. Eliminate the testing regime stressing out students and teachers and painting a narrative of failure with the public. Shift to low-stakes assessments that give educators actionable information (see barrettforschools.com).

2. Focus on state-level policies that can restore respect for the teaching profession.

3. Focus ons school safety, with an immediate budget push on physical security and emotional safety, with proper levels of mental health funding as we face a multifaceted student mental health crisis.

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Michael Maher (D)

Equity, Excellence, and Innovation.

Equity is a commitment to developing a plan to address systemic inequity to ensure academic failure or success is not predictable based on race or socioeconomic status.

Excellence is our commitment to restoring North Carolina as a leader in public education through policies and programs that serve the needs of all children.

Innovation calls for dynamic change that provides increased opportunities for children in our public schools.

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Jen Mangrum (D)

1. Professionalize school personnel – make working in education a viable career choice by improving salaries, benefits and working conditions.

2. Properly fund schools – provide adequate funding for textbooks, resources and personnel.

3. Expand equity across the districts – ensure that every child, whether they live in an urban or rural district, despite race or socioeconomic status, have access to rigorous coursework, culturally responsive teachers, and safe spaces for learning.

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Keith Sutton (D)

Work with the Governor and the General Assembly to provide the appropriate level of investment in public education to ensure success for all North Carolina students.

Evaluate the organizational structure and capacity of the Department of Public Instruction and engage in a restructuring that will be more responsive and improve service delivery and support.

Overhaul the state’s strategy and approach for turning around and improving the state’s lowest performing schools.

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Question 2: What should be required in SRO training to ensure that students with disabilities remain safe?

Craig Horn (R)

1. Specific training on needs and adjustments for students with disabilities in the school setting

2. Regular PD for SROs on best practices

3. Professional counseling for SROs that focuses on social-emotional issues generally associated with students with disabilities

4. Regular on-site professional evaluations to consider any unique needs due to physical or other characteristics of the students’ environment

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James Barrett (D)

SROs overall need to understand they are dealing with diverse groups of students and especially how students with disabilities present differently, including in stressful situations. DPI already offers some great training, for both SROs, but also importantly for administrators to understand how SROs should be used for law enforcement matters only. Also, my district now uses the Vitals app to ensure our SROs are aware of students with disabilities and their needs in all situations.

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Michael Maher (D)

In addition to training SROs in Social Emotional Learning and disability awareness, we must also provide information on exclusionary disciplinary practices. The data are clear that students of color and students with disabilities are subject to disproportionate rates of exclusionary practices. Comprehensive training in these core areas that includes how to work with children, alternatives to physical interventions, and how disability impacts behavior is critical to ensuring we protect the rights of children.

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Jen Mangrum (D)

SROs and schools should be trained in restorative justice. It is a relational model of discipline and SROs are citizens of the school community. It is not an authoritarian model. The community holds the accused accountable and then provides support and healing for everyone involved. The SRO would learn forms of mediation and problem solving strategies. Research shows RJ schools focus on mutual respect and therefore create safer spaces and eless bullying of our children.

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Keith Sutton (D)

In order to maintain safety with students with disabilities, SRO training should provide officers with an understanding of the difference in conducting law enforcement within a school. That training should also include an understanding of the adolescent/ teen brain and behaviors, de-escalation techniques and self-regulation techniques. Lastly, such training should include instruction on recognizing mental and physical disorders and the appropriate response to intervention.

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Question 3: What will you do to address school violence without placing students with disabilities unnecessarily at risk of criminal justice involvement?

Craig Horn (R)

I will work to increase the number of counselors in schools and make available school psychologists sufficient to handle both the number and complexity of student challenges. I will develop and implement a check-list for each student to be used by staff and SRO’s to cross- check what is required with what is actually needed. Where possible, this should be included in each student’s packet and reviewed by the primary care provider for each applicable student.

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James Barrett (D)

DPI can set the tone for how we address this. Restorative practices should be used in our schools to develop relationships with all students proactively, and address incidents as learning opportunities to develop behavioral skills in our students instead of criminal justice involvement. This is a major mind shift for many schools, but will help all students. Combined with clearer codes of conduct, schools should focus on minimizing criminal involvement and the involvement of SROs.

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Michael Maher (D)

Addressing school violence requires a comprehensive approach. North Carolina needs additional investments to ensure we have the appropriate numbers of school support personnel including nurses, counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Beyond adding personnel, we need to empower school administrators as they seek to build and promote an inclusive culture. Building this culture includes additional training for all school staff in topics including social emotional learning, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, and conflict resolution.

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Jen Mangrum (D)

If schools change their philosophy from a punishment model to a conflict resolution model by implementing restorative justice, how they respond to incidents will typically not involve criminal justice. Behavior management will no longer be about “control” by the authoritarians in the building but about establishing relationships and trust among all community members. Members are responsible for holding one another accountable and preventing violence before it starts.

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Keith Sutton (D)

I would increase the number of trained personnel that are equipped to handle the special needs of students with disabilities, such as counselors, social workers and other professionals. I would also work with disability rights organizations to examine state policies and statues to ensure that we are providing the necessary protections for our students with disabilities.

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Question 4: How can DPI ensure that LEAs are providing a Free, Appropriate Public Education to students?

Craig Horn (R)

See above. All such conferences/ agreements must be put in writing, approved by the school principal and LEA leadership. DPI will then follow up as appropriate (at a minimum, spot check the reports to insure compliance). I would also establish a “hot line” communication option that allows parents/caregivers to follow up directly with DPI to resolve any compliance issues. I would also have this info cross-checked with DHHS to insure all options are being considered.

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James Barrett (D)

Advocating with legislators for appropriate funding to support student needs is a crucial first step. But a fully staffed and supported DPI should also provide PD and model programs for LEAs to understand how best to achieve FAPE. DPI and the superintendent must also advocate for more funding and calendar exibility so that general education teachers and TAs are trained to support all student needs in least restrictive environments, and be prepared to manage all situations.

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Michael Maher (D)

Advocating for a fully resourced Exceptional Children’s Division at NC DPI including full staffing is critical to our success as a service agency. A full staff allows the department to communicate with schools and parents in a timely and efficient matter as policy changes are developed and implemented. Additionally, having adequate resources helps to ensure the dispute resolution process is handled quickly and effectively.

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Jen Mangrum (D)

The State Superintendent should meet regularly with LEAs (Superintendents) and collaborate on how best to support them. This position is not about top down mandates but about responding to the needs of our students and those will vary by district. In addition, the superintendent should be visiting every LEA in the state at least once a year to see the needs as well as the successes rsthand and to speak with and listen to stakeholders.

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Keith Sutton (D)

There are 3 things that DPI can do to ensure LEAs are providing a Free, Appropriate Public Education to students.

1. Provide LEAs with the appropriate funding from the state and for the rural LEAs and distressed counties that are struggling, the state is there to address the gap

2. Ensure that every student has access to an effective teacher and an effective school leader

3. The appropriate student assessments and accountability tools are in place to measure results

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Question 5: What will you do to ensure that students with disabilities are college and career ready?

Craig Horn (R)

All students with disabilities must have, at least, an annual conference with a school counselor to determine short- and long- term goals. Since goals tend to change throughout the school year, as do the capabilities of students, evaluations must be reviewed at least twice during the year to make appropriate adjustments and to determine the student’s progress. The results of the conference must be reviewed with the student, the caregiver and a disability care professional. All must approve the protocols to be followed going forward.

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James Barrett (D)

We must begin with improving literacy for all students, including students with disabilities. We know this is the biggest gap, starting as early as we measure. I will lead DPI in providing resources and guidance to districts to train teachers in the science of reading— research shows us that this works. Also college ready includes community college so we can partner with them more to create a clear pipeline for our students.

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Michael Maher (D)

Throughout my campaign I’ve called for accountability reform; in particular, transforming our school report cards to a dashboard with additional metrics important in overall school performance. Part of the accountability reform is a transition from an overreliance on standardized assessments to more authentic forms of assessment that capture how well children are being prepared. Transitioning to a more personalized approach, including opportunities for competency-based learning, will help ensure students are college and career ready.

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Jen Mangrum (D)

1) DPI needs to emphasize high expectations for all students. Too often we underestimate what our students are capable of especially our students with disabilities

2) Ensure that teachers are trained to use a variety of diagnostic tools to inform their instruction Provide schools with the PD and resources needed to use research-verified assessments.

3) Create multiple pathways utilizing community colleges, employers, etc to make schools more relevant with internships, work experience and other opportunities

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Keith Sutton (D)

I would work to ensure that every LEA has the resources to provide every student the full range of educational opportunities regardless of their ability. Whether they want to attend a post- secondary institution or go directly into the workforce, every LEA should be equipped to address their needs. If they are not, DPI is appropriately resourced and positioned to assist. In addition, DPI would develop and maintain a network of state and community partners that can work with schools to supplement occupational courses.

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