NC Superintendent Mark Johnson’s #NC2030 Plan

NC Superintendent Mark Johnson unveiled his #NC2030 plan to improve NC schools to the hundreds of teachers, school and district leaders, business and community leaders and lawmakers. In his detailed strategy, Johnson ensured that North Carolina public school teachers would receive a 5% pay increase. Johnson wants to reduce the number of end of grade tests students have to take and have teachers personalize teaching for students.

By far, Johnson’s proposal of a pay increase for teachers got a lot of attention. According to the National Education Association (NEA), NC ranks 37 of 50 in teacher pay. Wesley Medford, a sophomore at Cleveland High School, believes teachers should make more money. “Yes, teachers work really hard and have a really tough job with a lot of responsibilities,” Medford said. NC teachers currently earn an average salary of $50,861 per year, but that amount includes pay for administrators, local supplements, which are determined by local tax rates, and all health benefits educators receive. Lauren Rose, an English teacher at Cleveland High School, says, “well if you look at the expenses that we have  out of pocket compared to other careers, the education profession is probably one of the very few careers in which the employee has to go purchase majority of their supplies such as notebook paper, pencils, colored pencils, poster board for projects, but if I was a doctor and needed syringes and medications for my patients, I wouldn’t need to go purchase those materials myself. They would already be provided for me. But in education, the things that make my class possible in the activities we do, I have to buy the majority of those things, or I have to ask parents to purchase those items for their kids. I feel that that’s disrespectful for the parents as well.”

Johnson stated in his proposal that he wants to increase funding for textbooks and digital media, empower teachers with direct control over the use of state funding for classroom supplies, and provide all schools with consistent, cost-effective access to high-quality digital and personalized-learning tools. Ms. Rose says, ‘Well, the state and government in general has a history for using teachers as a carrot in front of the donkey by saying, “Oh yeah, vote for me. I’m going to raise teacher pay!” Politicians have been promising that for years before I even became a teacher five years ago. They have been promising that but nobody has ever really followed through with adjusting the budget to give teachers that increase. It’s not really teachers’ pay that’s the problem, it’s the funding towards the education system in the first place. Stop funding all of these government programs to make life better for everybody and start taking those funds like the North Carolina Education Lottery where those funds are supposed to go, but we don’t see that. If he had the support from the state government as in the court and the congress and the House, then it would work, but he has to have that support first.’ The NEA reports that NC teacher pay has risen by five percent since 2009, but if the pay raises are adjusted for inflation, teacher pay has actually dropped by 9.4% since that time.  The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reports The NC Education Lottery gives 30% of their money to public schools, but most of that funding covers reducing class size in early grades and pre-kindergarten programs. In all, “Even if the NC Education Lottery gave 100% of its revenue to schools, that would only cover about 19 percent of the state’s total budget for K-12 public schools,” DPI says on its website.

While there are doubts about whether Johnson’s plan will increase educator pay, teachers and students both agree with Johnson that standardized should be reduced in favor of more hands-on, career-based learning experiences.  Under the heading “Provide 21st Century Tools and Support for Educators,” Johnson’s plan says, “Support and enable policymakers, local districts, and educators to make data-driven decisions to improve student outcomes through modern systems and state-level data analytics personnel and resources.” Medford says, “I feel like teachers have a really hard job and keeping up with kids and they do a lot of work and do more work than the students and deserve a higher salary.” Ms. Rose also agrees with reducing standardized testing. “My opinion on standardized testing is I hate it. I don’t think standardized testing in most education platforms does any good for students because every child is completely different,” Rose said.

Johnson is not the only person to push for personalized learning in schools. Over the past two years, Johnson County has moved to make personalized learning a core part of school. It is a foundation of Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow’s “JoCo2020” initiative. Personalized learning is the process of tailoring education to the students’ personal needs. ‘I agree with personalized learning strategies to a certain degree. In a classroom of 30 you can’t have an individual lesson for each child you have to look at “Okay I can have an activity for that’s geared more for the higher level students, mid level students, and lower level students,” but why should test them all the same if each student is different. You don’t take standardized test in the workforce, you get training in the workforce but you don’t have to complete a standard test in the workforce so why do it to the students.’ Rose says.

There has also been talk about adding courses to the Cleveland High school elective class options. One of the electives that Cleveland will add next year is an aviation course. Student Wesley Medford says, “I would like to see more hands engineering and technical classes and some other classes that others students would like to see.” Overall, students would like to see the engineering course options expanded to give them more career options as they start to get to the end of high school.

Ms. Rose says, “I’d like to see a lot more hands on type work training. A lot of kids don’t understand that there are jobs for welding or don’t understand what classes to take for things like welding or marketing, and those kinds of classes become slush courses for kids who don’t always necessarily sign up for courses or don’t know what they want to do. I think we need to look at blue collar positions that don’t have a lot of people moving into those positions from school because there’s been such a focus on college. We need to start offering some of those courses like HVAC, HVAC controls, or plumbing, things like that to kind of give students more of an opportunity instead of just looking at college as the only option.”

Superintendent Johnson’s NC2030 plan offers many ideas to improve the overall educational experience for students and teachers. The question remains: how successful will Johnson be at accomplishing his goals?

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