January 2021 From the Board Room

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From the Board Room: Activities of the NC Board of Education




The State Board of Education is comprised of the State Treasurer, the Lieutenant Governor and 11 citizens appointed by the Governor. This newsletter highlights the Board’s activities on behalf of the 1.5 million public school students in our state and the more than 100,000 educators who provide services to children. You may view all State Board of Education member and advisor information online. To access current and archived versions of From the Boardroom, visit the State Board of Education’s website.


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Catherine Truitt

Students Must be at the Center, Truitt Tells Board Members, Sharing her “North Star”


In her first monthly report to the State Board of Education, newly elected State Superintendent Catherine Truitt explained her commitment to public education and pledged to work in unison with the Board to improve outcomes for all students.


“The most common question that I received on the campaign trail was, ‘Why did you decide to run?’ Truitt told the Board. “The answer for me is very simple: The surest pathway to economic prosperity and freedom in this country is still a public education.”


The challenge, however, is that not all students are benefitting from that educational advantage, she said. “Despite the Herculean efforts of our teachers, administrators, superintendents and parents,” she said, “we are not educating all kids.”


Changing that, she said, means setting a vision for the department that “puts students at the center of everything that we do,” and achieving that vision means that the State Board of Education and superintendent must work in unison.


Underscoring that point, she said that the department’s organizational chart has been revised so that key leadership staff – general counsel, communications director and the legislative affairs team – report both to the Board and superintendent. Truitt said that such a “one team, one voice” approach can only strengthen the state’s public schools and help all students succeed.


She told the Board that her leadership team was setting a vision “whose North Star is that every single child in North Carolina needs to have a high qualified, expert teacher. All else will flow under that.”


history fix

State Board Reviews Revised Learning Standards for Social Studies Instruction


The State Board of Education this month reviewed a revised set of social studies learning standards from the Department of Public Instruction intended to reflect a broader view of American history sought by the Board last summer.


Board member Jill Camnitz, chairwoman of the Student Learning and Achievement Committee, said staff had been directed then to include in the standards multiple voices that “reflect the diversity of our students.”


She said the inclusion of those perspectives are aimed at providing students with a broad view of American history, not at raising issues of blame or guilt. “We’re seeking to draw on the richness of the American historical experience as a gift to our children so they can better appreciate their legacy, strengthen their sense of connection to each other and work together to improve the American experience for all,” Camnitz said. “This is the sprit in which these standards were created.”


David Stegall, deputy state superintendent of innovation, stressed to the Board that the revised standards had been thoroughly vetted with teachers across the state.


“One of the things we heard at the last meeting was that it was essential that the standards were crafted in collaboration with multiple educators from diverse areas and backgrounds,” Stegall told the Board. “We had tremendous feedback from the field. These are the voices that are echoed in these standards.”


The Board will vote later this month or early February on adopting the standards after the new state superintendent, Catherine Truitt, asked for time to further review them.


“I’m grateful to the DPI team for the thought and work and effort behind these standards,” Truitt said, but she asked for a chance to meet with Stegall and staff “to perhaps not change the standards but reframe the context in which they were written.”


Several Board members praised the revised standards, though others objected to them for being potentially divisive.


Matt Bristow-Smith, the 2019 Wells Fargo Principal of the Year and advisor to the Board, said he believed the standards will empower students to be “critical thinkers and engaged citizens” who can understand different perspectives.


“When it comes to facing the hard truths of our American narrative,” Bristow-Smith said, “what and how we teach history in our public schools matters incredibly at this moment in history.”


Mariah Morris, an advisor to the Board as the 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Teacher of the Year, said she believed the standards will help affirm the identity of students from diverse backgrounds.


“These standards serve to anchor our students lived experiences in the objectives that are based off of historical truths of our state and nation,” Morris said. “We have to center on all of our students’ perspectives.”


Board member Amy White said she could not support the standards revisions because of the use of the term “gender identity” as a group whose perspectives would be included, and she said she was concerned that in selecting curriculum to teach the standards, local districts “may use the new language to bring guilt into the classroom as opposed to a very proactive, pro-unity approach about how we deal with issues facing our nation today.”


She said learning objectives focusing on past societal inequities, injustice and discrimination should also be matched with objectives about policies and efforts to combat them.


“I do want to make sure at this point for students today, that they won’t feel a sense of blame for activities that were conducted by our ancestors,” White said.


Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said he opposed the revised standards because of their use of divisive language for what he said are political ends.


“We are Americans,” Robinson said, “and that’s what we should be teaching our children. A lot of this is being done for political purposes, and I simply do not like it.”


James Ford, a Board member who has advocated for a broader view of American history that includes the perspectives of minorities and other underrepresented groups, said the new standards support the Board’s focus on equity as a guiding principle in its strategic plan.


“Although we do share a national identity, our experience varies wildly according to our groups,” Ford said. “There are ties that bind us, but there are also things that offer particularities that have to be acknowledged and have to seen.”

SBE strategic plan logo

With new superintendent and more federal funding, Board revisits budget priorities


The arrival of Catherine Truitt as the new state superintendent and news that the state expects $1.6 billion in additional federal funds from the pandemic relief bill enacted last month is prompting the Board to sharpen its focus on spending priorities in its proposal due within the next few weeks for the state’s biennial budget.


After reviewing a long list of priorities and needs – along with the prospect of $163 million that the Board will be able to use for state-level initiatives and administration – Board members heard from both Chairman Eric Davis and Truitt that additional funding should be focused on critical needs for the state’s students and schools.


“The challenge we face is how do we determine what to really lean in on and get done,” Davis said. “Instead of trying to do a thousand things OK, how do we do a few things really well if we’re going to impact students.”


Davis proposed three priorities, the substance of which he gave credit to Truitt as her ideas. The first, he said, is “an excellent teacher in every classroom, supported by strong principals and superintendents’ leadership. Whatever we can do for that builds from there.”


His second priority, he said, should be to “double down” on literacy. “Every academic subject depends on our students’ ability to read. We’ve got to get on the same page with our partners, across districts around the science of reading to make a concerted effort, not only to close the gaps, but also to accelerate students’ literacy skills, followed closely by math skills.”


The third, Davis said, would be for the Board and DPI to overhaul the state’s assessment and accountability program “so that we emphasize those things that most impact and drive student performance.”


Truitt told the Board that revising the state’s approach to assessment and accountability would be a key lever in achieving other important goals for the state’s students and schools.


“We all know that what gets measured gets taught,” she said, “and we all know the assessment and accountability piece impacts everything from teacher retention to school morale to what students learn to the culture that we have – or do not have – that it’s OK to fail and be innovative.


“We can’t have a culture like that when our assessment and accountability is as punitive as it is.”


SREB fix

Licensure Process Needs Reform to Improve Quantity, Quality of Teachers, Board Told


North Carolina needs to take a “new and fresh approach” to teacher licensure to address chronic shortages and insufficient diversity, Board members were told this month by Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, which facilitated round-table discussions in North Carolina and several other states about human capital needs.


Pruitt said the North Carolina group, which included representatives from a number of agencies and institutions with a stake in education, including the State Board of Education, focused on a critical goal for the state: How to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of teacher candidates and prepare them to be licensed, hired, supported and retained as highly effective educators in North Carolina schools.


Megan Boren, a program specialist with SREB, outlined a number of ways that licensure policies hinder efforts in North Carolina and elsewhere to attract, develop and retain a robust teacher corps: Policies intended to hold candidates to high standards may be confusing and too restrictive and may discourage people from entering the profession; they disproportionately impact people of color; they’re not connected to effectiveness in the classroom; the current process doesn’t give excellent teachers a way to stay in the classroom, prompting them to move into administrative roles in the school or district.


“As a result,” Boren said, “the licensure process is limiting the potential of North Carolina’s current and prospective teachers and is hindering the success of students.”


She said the roundtable group agreed that the state needs to review the state’s licensure system with an eye towards a redesign of teacher pathways that rely less on inputs and more on outputs.


But Boren also noted that compensation is a key factor.


“These policy changes must come with state base salary structures that incentivize mastery and advancement,” she said.


One approach to increasing the number of potential teachers would be for the state to allow candidates with associate degrees to enter the profession as apprentices, working under professional teachers, while completing their bachelor’s degree.


State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said the focus on improving the state’s approach to licensure is overdue.


“It is crucial that we provide a licensure system that provides for opportunities for teachers to grow, lead and disrupt themselves professionally,” Truitt said. “Because that is going to be our best tool for recruiting teachers.”


She added that continued efforts to recruit and retain strong principals are key to retaining high quality teachers.


“We do know that the building leadership is the number one way that we retain great teachers,” Truitt said.


Board member Jill Camnitz, who served on the roundtable, said a detailed proposal will be presented to the Board next month.