Name as it appears on the ballot: Dr. Jen Mangrum
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: jenmangrumfornc.com
Occupation & employer: Associate Professor at UNC-Greensboro
1) Please tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be an effective Superintendent? Please be specific.
I am a former elementary classroom teacher, literacy facilitator and district administrator. I received my PhD from UNC-Greensboro in Curriculum and Instruction, and then created the Elementary Education program at North Carolina State University and was the first faculty member in the elementary education department. Afterward, I returned to UNC-Greensboro where I currently teach, advise and coordinate teacher education programs. As an Associate Professor, I provide extensive professional development for teachers around the country and collaborate closely with the National Paideia Center. In addition, I co-founded the UNC-G STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative, a support for elementary teachers in schools highly impacted by poverty. My goal as State Superintendent of Public Instruction is to be a champion for our public schools.
2) Please tell us the three most pressing issues the next Superintendent will face, and how, if elected, you plan to address those issues.
My challenge as Superintendent will be marshaling the political will of state leaders to deliver our students the education they are owed. My top three priorities will be to improve our public schools and ensure that every child flourishes. I intend to 1) expand equity across school districts using the WestEd report as a roadmap for supports, resources and school funding, 2) professionalize careers in education, which includes advocating for improved salary and working conditions, and 3) provide a healthy and safe school environment that meets the needs of our students’ academic, social, emotional and physical well-being.
3) Teacher pay has long been a hot-button issue in North Carolina, including in the recent budget standoff. Teacher salaries have risen in recent years, though critics have argued that they have not risen enough. Do you believe the state’s educators are getting paid enough? As Superintendent, how would you seek to recruit and retain the best possible teachers for the state’s schools?
Prior to the Great Recession, North Carolina teacher pay lagged the national average by 12%. Despite recent pay raises, average teacher pay now lags the national average by 16%. At the same time, the General Assembly has enacted numerous measures to denigrate the profession. We must create a statewide culture of respect for all educators by:
- Increasing teacher pay so that it is competitive with other professions’
- Providing additional compensation for teachers who earn advanced degrees
- Ensuring our benefits package attracts and retains outstanding educators, including restoration of retiree health benefits
- Enacting measures from the Governor’s DRIVE Task Force
- Providing high quality professional development for all educators including support personnel
- Ensuring due process career protections for all school personnel
- Providing schools with additional resources to attract and retain teachers in high-need positions
- Supporting the continued expansion of models that provide teachers with opportunities for advancement while remaining in the classroom
- Involving educators in the decision-making process for policies and programs that impact their students
4) Test scores show significant disparities in achievement between schools and school districts. Why do you think some schools perform better than others? As Superintendent, how would you work to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools?
No matter your background, no matter what county you live in, and no matter what neighborhood you live in, we all want the same thing from our schools: we want safe, welcoming, inclusive communities that provide all children with the same opportunities to flourish. Unfortunately, we’ve failed to provide those types of opportunities to all students.
Underlying the Leandro case is the idea that we need to provide the resources necessary to ensure that all children have the same opportunity to flourish. That doesn’t mean blindly throwing money at our schools. It means investing in programs like community schools and after-school programs that are proven to help students no matter their background. And it means providing the curriculum and training to employ culturally-relevant and culturally-affirming practices.
At the state level, I plan on creating an Office of Equity to monitor state progress towards eliminating opportunity gaps and provide schools with assistance in implementing reforms.
Finally, we can’t neglect policies that exacerbate inequities outside of the school house. We need to support all measures – including expanding Medicaid – that support families with low incomes.
5) Research suggests that schools in North Carolina are becoming more racially and economically segregated, which has significant adverse effects for low-income children and children of color. In addition, according to a 2018 report from the N.C. Justice Center, “In 72 percent of the counties with at least one charter school, charter schools increase the degree of racial segregation in the district.” What steps, if any, do you believe the state should take to address this?
I think the report you cite offers a number of important recommendations that we need to implement, including:
- Encouraging the merging of city and county school districts in cases where district boundaries are creating segregated school systems
- Using school report cards to highlight the degree to which districts are (or are not) segregating their students
- Minimizing the extent to which school performance grades are determined by discriminatory standardized tests
- Providing grants and technical assistance to school districts implementing new student assignment policies
- Reinstating and enforcing language requiring the enrollment of charter schools to reflect the demographics of their community
- Of course, we must also tackle school segregation that occurs within the school building. We must examine how discipline practices, curriculum, and resource allocation can be reformed to positively impact children from all backgrounds. The data shows that students of color – particularly Black students – are the victims of discriminatory discipline practices and are denied opportunities to access rigorous coursework such as AP and honors classes.
6) Do you believe that tax dollars should go to private schools? If so, under what circumstances? Do you support the expansion of charter schools? Why or why not?
I think choice is important. But choice is only meaningful when we are letting families choose between multiple high-quality options. Unfortunately, that’s not how school choice works in North Carolina. We’ve let a quest to expand choice distract us from our primary task of making sure that every child has an excellent school to choose from.
I do not support vouchers, as they undermine the idea of education as a shared public good. As a society, we all have a stake in ensuring all of our kids receive the education they need to become flourishing adults and active, informed citizens. But that tie is eroded when we view education as solely an individualistic pursuit without any standards or democratic accountability.
I also think we should hit the pause button on expanding charter schools. We must confront the reality that operating multiple systems of schooling is simply more expensive than running one system. I’m not going to take away anyone’s charter school, but I think we should hit the pause button until:
We have delivered on our promise to provide a sound basic education within our traditional public schools; and
We can install safeguards to ensure that any future expansion of charter schools doesn’t exacerbate segregation or otherwise unnecessarily raise the costs of education.
That said, I understand why many low-income families are seeking alternatives. North Carolina has never given low-income students – and particularly low-income Black students – the resources, curriculum, and programs necessary to thrive in our public schools. We’ve stepped back even further under Republican-imposed austerity budgets. 10 years and they’ve made no new investments to help low-income students in our schools.
That’s why I talk about Leandro so much. We must act aggressively to provide these students with the resources that they are owed so that all students can thrive within our accountable, inclusive public schools.
7) As technology becomes more integrated into learning, what sort of changes would you like to see made in order to make North Carolina schools more technologically advanced?
There’s a long history in education where technology companies make big promises but fail to deliver results. For example, my opponent has embraced computer-based “personalized learning” even though there’s no evidence that these computer programs actually help students. Similarly, the General Assembly embraced “virtual charter schools” that have regularly been among the worst-performing schools in the state. As Superintendent, I’m not going to waste money on unproven technologies that our teachers don’t want.
That said, the pandemic has laid bare our state’s inequitable digital divide. Internet access has become indispensable for full participation in school and society. As a state, we must begin treating internet access like a utility so that it’s accessible and affordable for all.
8) Are there any other issues you would like to address that have not been included in this questionnaire?
I hope that voters will also consider reliability and honesty when making their selection for State Superintendent. My opponent regularly made dishonest or misleading claims when she was Governor McCrory’s education advisor and has continued the pattern as a candidate.
As education advisor, she falsely claimed the 2016 teacher pay raise brought average salaries above $50,000 and made other false claims about school spending and teacher turnover.
As a candidate, she outrageously tried to pretend she helped pass “the largest” teacher pay raise in North Carolina history, even though it ranks only 12th -highest in the past 27 years. She also claimed that North Carolina has never moved the needle on student performance in the past 30 to 40 years, ignoring that smart investments in the 90s enabled our state to become the first high-poverty Southern state to raise student achieve above the national average and to make more progress in closing the achievement gap during the 1990s than any other state. Finally, she continues to misrepresent, or not understand, the findings and recommendations of the WestEd Leandro report, which is incredibly troubling since compliance with Leandro will undoubtedly remain the biggest issue in North Carolina schools over at least the next eight years.
Comment on this questionnaire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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