School board mem­ber un­der scru­tiny eyes su­per­in­ten­dent run

The News & Observer - - Triangle & N.c. - — STAFF WRITER SHELBI POLK

A Chapel Hill-Car­rboro school board mem­ber who came un­der scru­tiny last year af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial vote about a Man­darin mag­net school says he will not run for re-elec­tion. In­stead, James Bar­rett an­nounced that he will run as a Demo­crat for state school su­per­in­ten­dent in 2020.

“It is clear that we need bet­ter lead­er­ship in the state su­per­in­ten­dent to ben­e­fit all stu­dents and teach­ers across the state,” Bar­rett said. He pointed to his man­age­ment skills and will­ing­ness to ad­vo­cate for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion as sell­ing points for his cam­paign.

“The first thing we need to make sure we do is re­store re- spect to our teach­ers,” Bar­rett said. He hopes to be able to pro­vide teach­ers with the re­sources they need “and then get out of the way.”

Bar­rett said he thinks the cur­rent sys­tem of test­ing is overly bur­den­some, “stress­ing out ev­ery­one in­volved: stu­dents, ad­min­is­tra­tors, and even the pub­lic.” In­stead of shut­ting down schools for more than a week at a time for test­ing, Bar­rett ad­vo­cates more reg­u­lar check-ins through­out the year as a way to bet­ter un­der­stand the progress of stu­dents and teach­ers. He pointed to a plan orig­i­nally pro­posed by A.L. “Buddy” Collins, for­mer vice chair­man of the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, which would have ended end-of-year test­ing for sev­eral grades, as a start­ing point.

Schools are cur­rently scored on aca­demic per­for­mance and growth and given a grade of A through F. Bar­rett doesn’t be­lieve that data tells us what we need to know.

“What we know from that data is that it’s mea­sur­ing poverty lev­els, in­stead of the growth of ev­ery stu­dent and the amount of learn­ing that’s be­ing done,” Bar­rett said. He ad­vo­cates a more in­di­vid­u­al­ized sys­tem of scor­ing, which would en­sure that “we’re mea­sur­ing the stan­dards we want to achieve in- stead of just stan­dard­ized test­ing.”

Bar­rett served on the Chapel Hill-Car­rboro school board for eight years, in­clud­ing two years as chair­man.

Bar­rett and an­other board mem­ber, Pat Hein­rich, were accused last year of work­ing too closely with par­ents who wanted Glen­wood Ele­men­tary School, which al­ready had a strong Man­darin dual-lan­guage pro­gram, to be­come a Man­darin mag­net school. Bar­rett was cleared of a le­gal con­flict of in­ter­est by the board’s le­gal coun­sel, and he told the N&O that he hadn’t crossed any lines. Ad­min­is­tra­tors asked that im­ple­men­ta­tion of the mag­net pro­gram, which passed with a 4-3 vote, be de­layed un­til the 2020-21 school year.

Repub­li­can Mark John­son, the cur­rent state su­per­in­ten­dent, has not de­clared his in­ten­tions for the 2020 race.

“Su­per­in­ten­dent John­son is fo­cused on work­ing with ed­u­ca­tors and law­mak­ers to con­tinue pos­i­tive trans­for­ma­tions for our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that strengthen all of North Carolina’s pub­lic schools. Stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tors are our top pri­or­ity, not po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns,” said Gra­ham Wil­son, a spokesman for John­son’s of­fice.

Jen Man­grum, a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at UNC-Green­boro, is ex­plor­ing run­ning for su­per­in­ten­dent as a Demo­crat, but she has not defini­tively de­clared a cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Lon­gleaf Pol­i­tics.

John­son was elected in 2016 at the age of 33, oust­ing longterm Demo­cratic in­cum­bent June Atkin­son.

Of all his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as CHCCS school board mem­ber, Bar­rett said he will miss be­ing with stu­dents on the stage at grad­u­a­tion the most.

James Bar­rett

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