RALEIGH — In a recent interview with North State Journal, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt discussed updates on her Parent Advisory Commission, her position on the implementation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights and confirmed her plans to run for reelection in 2024.
In January, the Parent Advisory Commission will be passing the two-year mark since it started meeting, which Truitt called “a labor of love.”
“One of the things that I realized when we started meeting with the parents is how little information parents have about or how little knowledge they have about how education policy happens, who is in control of what, what is the role of the local superintendent versus the local school board, county commissioners versus the legislature, versus DPI versus the State Board of Education,” Truitt said.
Truitt said the initial meetings of the commission focused mainly on bringing parents up to speed on how things work in education policy as well as clearing up information disconnects.
“We know from national data that there is a disconnect between what parents know and what schools do,” Truitt said. “For example, when I’ve seen research that shows what do teachers value versus what do parents value — and they’re not aligned.”
Truitt added that a parent, for example, is very concerned with the report card whereas the teacher might be looking more at test scores.
“At one of our meetings, we took about two hours to take parents through an early draft of the Parents’ Bill of Rights,” said Truitt. “And what I learned from that exercise is that parents are not a monolith.”
She elaborated by saying some parents think the community should play a role in educating their children while other parents don’t want any government involvement, and there were some parents with opinions of “everything in between.”
“But we’re all parents,” Truitt said. “Coming together is what they want to do… what’s best for their child. And that’s the one thing that I think this group has in common. That they all want to do what is best and right for their child.”
The superintendent said the commission had created five groups focused on specific topics of interest to them, including policy issues and, in particular, school safety.
The commission meets about three times a year, and Truitt believes many parents on the commission are “working locally in their region to impart information to parents.”
On the implementation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, Truitt had suggested pushing back the deadline to Jan. 1 at the September State Board of Education meeting to give districts more time to digest it and work on policies related to it.
Truitt said the law is “very specific” on what districts need to be doing, but said the biggest piece of the legislation, the parents’ guide to achievement, will need to be voted on by the state board.
“When this bill was passed, the agenda by law had already been set, and so we have to get something on the agenda for October,” said Truitt. “And then if the board passes it, then we get it. And then we’re talking about Nov. 4. I mean, districts have to put together significant written materials for the new pieces of law.”
She added she had updated the state board with highlights from a memo she sent to districts about the Parents’ Bill of Rights. The memo included a copy of the new law and a summary of the legislation, as well as a chart outlining the preexisting laws and the new legislation.
“The key to anything is that it has to be implemented correctly,” Truitt said. “And this would not be implemented correctly if we just tossed it over to districts and said, ‘In a week you have to get this up and running.’”
She added there was a lot in the law to cover and wanted to be sure “we do it well, and that when we give it to districts, there’s no excuses.”
Some critics of the new law have complained there is no funding associated with implementation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, but Truitt says money isn’t needed.
“They don’t need money to do anything that’s in this bill. Districts don’t need more money for this,” said Truitt. She added she had met with all 115 superintendents in a virtual meeting along with the school superintendents’ association leadership to walk them through everything in the bill and what was expected of them.
Truitt also confirmed she is running for reelection in 2024.
“I ran for this job with the express intent of leading public education in North Carolina,” said Truitt. “I’ve built an incredible team that has partnered well with the State Board of Education as well as with the legislature.
“We’ve brought in parent voices in a way that hasn’t been done before. We’ve prioritized parent voices, we’ve prioritized student voices, we’ve prioritized the voice of the business community, of teachers and principals, and we’ve prioritized data so that our districts can make data-driven decisions.”
She went on to say no administration has given the State Board of Education more data than hers, but there’s more work to be done.
“My team and I need another four years to finish what we’ve started, which is to say, changing the way we define what school quality and student success look like,” Truitt said, listing things like getting the right professional development for teachers, changing teacher compensation to provide a ladder of promotion and opportunity, and reorienting the purpose of K-12 education to align with the workforce to help students be successful after high school.
“There are lots of big picture changes to the system that we want to make that I think will benefit our students and their families in the long run,” said Truitt, adding “this administration has shown an incredible commitment to putting students first.”
“We were very intentional. I was very intentional when I created Operation Polaris about making students the North Star,” she said. “The North Star is not just aspirational, but it’s navigational. It’s what re-centers us because it’s easy to get off track with all the noise, but we have prioritized students and their parents in a way that was more necessary than ever before coming out of the pandemic. And we started by working with the legislature to reopen schools. It was the very first thing we did.”
When asked what she had learned from her current term that would carry over if reelected, Truitt said
“authentic relationships and being true to one’s own convictions are always the way to go because constituents can smell a fraud a mile away.”
In terms of leading the agency, Truitt said she thinks more consensus-building on the big issues is a must between the state board, parents and the legislature.
“When the state board and DPI and the legislature are fighting, kids and teachers lose,” said Truitt.