Four voices: June Atkinson, State Superintendent, Department of Public Instruction

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
State Superintendent of North Carolina Public Schools June Atkinson discusses her job at the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh on Wednesday

North State Journal spoke to four of the major players in guiding North Carolina’s education policy. North State Journal: What accomplishments are you most proud of with the N.C. public school system?June Atkinson: This past school year our graduation rate went to another all-time high of 86 percent. We know that a high school diploma is a ticket to have options. Another success story is the number of students now graduating from high school with credentials that mean something at the next level. Also, I am pleased that after a stagnant time that our fourth grade reading scores have improved from two years ago.NSJ: What are parents telling you they want to see changed in public schools?JA: While they see testing as something important for them, they want to have less emphasis on testing. Parents want to have timely access to information about how their children are doing in school. That is one of the reasons why we have established throughout North Carolina the information technology platform called Home Base and there is a parent portal where parents can check the attendance of that child, to see if the child was tardy and to see what the grades of their children. They want textbooks or some type of material. Parents do not like the General Assembly’s A-F scale. They do not believe that system adequately reflects the quality of that school. NSJ: What are students telling you they want to see changed?JA: They want their learning to be meaningful. They want to be able to apply their learning through projects and problem-solving. They want their teachers to engage them in ways other than lecture, and they still want the teacher in the classroom. They are concerned about students not having opportunities they may have. I hear two things: one is ‘we have the best school in the whole world’, or ‘if we only could have this, we could do a lot better.’ NSJ: What are teachers telling you they want to see changed?JA: They want North Carolinians to respect and value the work they are doing for the almost 1.6 million children in the state. They are very eager to learn new things, so they can do a better job in the classroom. At the elementary level, they need to have more than one set of eyes and one set of hands in the classroom. Another thing I hear all across the state is a genuine concern, passion and love for the students in the classroom.NSJ: What is the difference of what people think you do and what you do?JA: Some people believe that I determine the salaries of teachers, and I am the one making the decision about what tests we give and when we give tests. Some people think I have the authority to fire local superintendents or local principals or local teachers. We are responsible for doing all of the work to bring $1.2 billion from the federal government to the children of North Carolina. We are also responsible for the $9 million from the legislature for public school. When I hear a parent at a school tell me, I’m really glad my school has a parent portal, because I can check the grades of my child and I’m just really appreciative of that school providing this for me. Rarely do we say the reason why your school can provide that parent portal is because the Department of Public Instruction did most the work. To me, that is validating good work that we are doing.