North State Journal spoke to four of the major players in guiding North Carolina’s education policy. North State Journal: What excites you about the state of education in N.C.?Catherine Truitt: N.C. is leading the nation with The Digital Learning Initiative. It was one of the first bills the governor signed when he entered office. It moved the schools toward a digital learning environment. In 2013, We were at 22 percent of classrooms having Wi-Fi. We started with low-wealth, neediest schools getting Wi-Fi first. We are currently at 63 percent, and by 2018 we will 100 percent of N.C. classrooms having a robust Wi-Fi, allowing an entire class to be on devices. We may be the first state in the nation to have 100 percent of our learning spaces in public schools with robust Wi-Fi.The technology humanizes the classroom. It allows the teacher to personalizes learning and interact more with the kids, rather than stand up at the front of the classroom, delivering content and the students just sitting there passively. We’ve got counties throughout the state that are reporting not just things like lower suspension rates and higher college entrance rates, but also improved EOG (end-of-grade) scores.NSJ: What has been the biggest challenge?CT: What we were facing in 2013 is we had a recession and we were not fiscally prepared for it. We did not have a robust Rainy Day fund, we owed over a billion dollars to the federal government in unemployment insurance. The state had to furlough teachers and freeze teacher pay. My own pay in Johnston County was frozen. In 2007, they slashed textbook allotments from $111 million a year to $3 million dollars a year. When the governor entered office and the Republicans came in 2010, they got the textbook allotment back up to $23 million and now it’s been tripled.When Gov. [Jim] Hunt left office, we ranked about 20th in the nation for teacher pay, then under the [Mike] Easley administration we fell to about 32nd place. During the recession we fell to 46th. I laugh when I see this ad that Roy Cooper is running that says we “fell” to 41 in teacher pay. We did not “fall” to 41. We have actually risen from 46 to 41 in teacher pay since Gov. McCrory entered office.NSJ: What’s next?CT: First, we are not done with teacher pay. We know that we have to continue to invest in our teachers. Enrollment in our schools of education is down 30 percent … because there is not promotional track in the classroom. The governor would like to see some advanced teaching roles put into place where teaches can earn more money for taking on more responsibilities. It doesn’t mean they have to leave the classroom. Maybe they teach half the day and mentor new teachers the other half. Maybe they are on a 12-month contract because they are writing curriculum over the summer. There are ways we can compensate teachers that don’t involve test score performance, but involve a teacher’s choice. We already have a lot of teachers who do that. They are just not getting paid extra for it.
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