Five Democrats running for state superintendent spot

NC Dept. of Public Instruction building
NC Dept. of Public Instruction building

RALEIGH — The March 3 primary will determine which of the five Democrats vying to be state superintendent will advance to the General Election in November.

The Democrats running are James Barrett, Constance Johnson, Michael Maher, Jennifer Mangrum and Keith Sutton.


James Barrett has worked as a software engineering manager with Lenovo since 2015. Barret says his K-12 education was spent in North Carolina public schools. He also served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board for the past eight years, serving two times as chair. The key areas he intends to concentrate on are testing reform, increasing resources, equity in resource deployment and school safety.

Barrett was criticized last year for his role in pushing for the creation of a Mandarin magnet school but cleared of a legal conflict of interest by the board’s legal counsel. The program passed with a 4-3 vote with implementation rolling out in 2020-21.

Constance Lav Johnson was a late entry into the 2017 Charlotte Mayoral race where she lost in the primary. She is a former teacher and is the owner of City Political Magazine. According to her bio, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology/sociology and a master’s degree in education, guidance and counseling and is affiliated with the Greater Charlotte Alliance of Black School Educators.

Key areas Johnson’s website says she will focus on include making sure the “US Congress will ANTE UP for Teacher Pay,” recycling as a priority in NC schools, and free lunch and meals for all students.

Dr. Michael Maher taught high school science in Forsyth and Wake counties before taking a job at Saint Augustine’s University and then an administrative role at N.C. State University. Maher served as assistant dean of professional education at N.C. State and currently serves as the president of the N.C. Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators. He is also the vice-chairman of the N.C. Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission.

According to his website, his focus areas will be transparency, literacy, EVAAS, testing, teacher pay, and safety. Maher says on his site that we have to be “much more mindful” with the number of charter schools being allowed to open and where they are.

In 1987, Jennifer Mangrum received her degree in elementary education from UNC-Wilmington. She later obtained a master’s in early childhood education. After teaching second and third grade for 12 years, she went back to graduate school in 2001 and earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from UNC Greensboro. Mangrum went to work at N.C. State University in late 2004 and took a position at the UNC Greensboro in 2008.

Mangrum ran unsuccessfully for state senate against Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Eden), losing by over 19,500 votes. Her website lists numerous issues: including school safety, teacher pay, expanding early childhood education opportunities, increasing per pupil spending, a redesign of the state testing system, prioritizing the “recruitment of educators of color” and creating a “culture of respect” for all state educators.

According to her campaign site, Mangrum “became a part of the collective voice for Save Our Schools and the Red for Ed movement.”

Keith Sutton has been a member of the Wake County School Board since 2009 and in the past served as president of the Triangle Urban League, as well as executive director for the N.C. NAACP.

Sutton served as “excellence director” for BEST NC, an organization made up of mainly businesses and non-profits involved in education policy. He resides in Raleigh where he is an “education innovation consultant” with FocusED, LLC, a consulting organization he formed in 2017.

Issues Sutton has said he will focus on include raising the minimum wage for school support staff to $15 an hour, enhancing school safety, increased focus on social-emotional learning needs, reducing school suspensions, increasing teacher diversity, promoting racial equity and targeted support for underperforming schools.

The winning Democrat will face the winner of the Republican primary between Catherine Truitt, the chancellor of Western Governor’s University and a former education adviser to former Gov. Pat McCrory; and Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), who is in his fifth term and is the chair of both the House K-12 Education and Education Appropriations committees.

About A.P. Dillon 1342 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_