Jen for Superintendent! 2020 from Dr. Jen Mangrum on Vimeo.

Name as it appears on the ballot: Jen Mangrum

Age: 55

Party affiliation: Democratic

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Associate Professor in Teacher Education, UNC-Greensboro

Years lived in North Carolina: 55

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. 

In 1987 I graduated from UNCW with a BA in Elementary Education and began my teaching career in Onslow County. In addition to beginninng my first two years of teaching, I also attended ECU at night and earned my MEd in Early Childhood Education.  I moved to Guilford County in 1989 and continued teaching in the classroom until 1999 when I accepted a position as a literacy coach, providing literacy professional development for teachers. Simultaneously, I became part of the National Paideia Center’s National Faculty. I began traveling the country providing professional development on classroom discourse as well as project-based learning. 

After 14 years working in an elementary school, I recognized that I found great satisfaction working with practicing teachers. I left the classroom and attended UNCG full-time to earn a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction.   During my doctoral program I taught courses, conducted research and supervised student teachers. During 2003-2004, while I worked on my dissertation, I was offered and accepted a position as District Coordinator for Paideia and Cooperative Learning in Guilford County Schools. 

Immediately upon finishing my PhD in 2004, Dean Kay Moore at the College of Education at NC State University, hired me as the Coordinator of the Elementary Education Initiative and I designed, created and implemented the first elementary education program. It was a multimillion dollar project and the progam was influenced theoretically, practically and politically.  Because of my success with this project, I was offered an Assistant Professor position and I was the first faculty member in the department. 

In 2008, after commuting to Raleigh for the past 4 years, I accepted a position at UNCG to be closer to my family. I have been at UNCG for the past 11 years and I am currently an Associate Professor in Teacher Education.  I chair the Elementary Education Committee and I am the Program Coordinator for our undergraduate elementary education program and our Masters of Art in Teaching Program. This means I manage our student teaching supervisors, elementary faculty and adjuncts.  I teach courses in “Learning and Development Theory”, “Elementary Social Studies”, “Introduction to Elementary and Middle Grades” and I supervise a cohort of student teachers. I also co-founded the UNCG STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative. We train teachers to instruct in elementary engineering and support them throughout the year.  Our work is predominantly with children in underrepresented groups in STEM education and careers; children of color, children in poverty and females. Check out

For 32 years, I had been making an impact in education and social justice through my work.  However, after the 2016 election, I decided that in order to make a more significant impact I needed to be politically involved.  In 2018, I ran against Sen. Phil Berger. He eventually drew me out of his district but I moved 20 miles to continue my campaign. While I didn’t beat him, I did force him to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on television commercials and mailers. Governor Cooper told me I helped break the supermajority because that was money he couldn’t use to help his peers who lost in close races. 

I have more expertise in education than any other candidate and my race against Berger prepared me to run an effective campaign and gave me statewide recognition.  I am a proven leader, a strong communicator and I can win in the general election. It’s time to put an educator at the helm of our public schools!

2) Superintendent Mark Johnson is now running for lieutenant governor. Generally, what do you think of his term as Superintendent? Do you approve or disapprove of the way he has handled the job? Why or why not? 

Mark Johnson started his term with HB17, taking all the power away from the State Board of Education and ending a collaborative partnership with checks and balances.  The State Board of Education sued and lost. After this rocky start, Johnson’s tenure would continue with the questionable purchasing of thousands of unrequested Ipads without a systematic process for distributing them to schools. When asked by SBE Chair, Eric Davis, how they would be distributed, he responded naively, that teachers could email him to request an Ipad. This ridiculous response angered teachers and caused mass confusion about the purpose and distribution of the Ipads.

Johnson also lead a press conference with Senator Phil Berger to annouce and initiative “giving” teachers $400 to spend on classroom materials.  After some investigating, it was uncovered that this was not “new” money but instead, DPI would force districts to distribute the money they already received for supplies among their educators.  In addition, educators would be required to use an app called “Class Wallet”. Class wallet was an initiative lobbied for by Doug Eskew. 

Mr. Eskew’s name came up again as the person who lobbied DPI to adopt the laptop reading assessment system called “Istation”.  Istation was not recommended by Johnson’s literacy team of experts but he overrode their decision. In addition, he made an “emergency payment” of almost a million dollars late at night to Istation. He is currently in the midst of an investigation to determine if he followed proper procurement procedures.  I’m doubtful.

I believe that Mark Johnson has been highly unethical and lacks leadership skills.  For the past two years, I joined thousands of educators marching in Raleigh because we feel demeaned, devalued, and that our public schools are under assault. Although the march ended in Halifax Mall, right beside the DPI building, Johnson was no where to be found. Again, shouldn’t the leader of public education, at the very least, come to listen to teachers? 

I disapprove of the way Mark Johnson has handled the job. As a TFA member, who received 5 weeks of classroom instruction, taught for only 2 years with no credentials and then served briefly on a school board, he was not equipped to understand the needs of public schools and of our North Carolina students. 

3) Please tell us the three most pressing issues the next Superintendent will face, and how, if elected, you plan to address those issues. 

1. Professionalize careers in education.

Lobby stakeholders for better wages for all school personnel, active and retired, and generate a proposed budget from the Superintendents’ office that reflects people as a priority. 

Expand the teacher pipeline, with emphasis on teachers of color, by developing and funding a high school teacher cadet program, develop a community college aspiring educator program and lobby the NCGA to extend the Teaching Fellows and requiring HBCUs be part of the program. Create a taskforce of black, male educators to develop a system to recruit and retain more black, male educators. 

2. Properly fund schools.

Visit schools in every district to discover and acknowledge their needs firsthand and foster positive relationships in order to repair current issues of distrust and disrespect.

Consistently communicate the findings of the extensive Leandro Report that highlights the inadequate and inequitable funding for schools. Districts with more concentrated levels of high needs students must receive more funding. 

3. Expand equity and access across the state 

Create an Office of Equity Affairs in DPI to provide support and professional development across the state. Use findings from Leandro report to establish goals. Hire a Deputy Superintendent for Equity with extensive experience in educational practice and equity. 

Model equitable practices in my decision-making in DPI (hiring, funding, curriculum etc.) Continue my own development and education on issues of equity. 

4) Over the last six months, there has been considerable debate (and legal battles) over Superintendent Johnson’s decision to award a K–3 reading program to Istation, though it was not the highest-ranked program by a committee of educators. Later, Johnson gave Istation an emergency contract, which the state canceled, then issued an identical one. Based on what you know, what do you think of the way the Superintendent handled this situation? How would you have handled it differently, if at all? 

I would have approached the procurement of a reading assessment system very differently.  First, I appreciate that he initially brought in experts and/or professionals in literacy to advise him but because I am versed in teaching reading, have taught reading myself and have taught others to teach reading, I would have been personally involved in the conversations from the beginning.  

Literacy is the most essential skill taught in schools and it is disheartening that Johnson has very little knowledge and experience in literacy pedagogy and yet he rejected the decision made by those who do.  His motivation is questionable. 

Along those same lines, Johnson has double-downed on Jeb Bush’s failed reading initiative, “Read to Achieve”.   Our third grade reading scores have dropped consistently over the past 5 years but Johnson refuses to change course.  

The following is what I believe about teaching reading and selecting appropriate tools for screening and diagnostics.

Teachers are the professionals in the classroom and should be given the opportunity to do what they know is best for their children. (However, after 2 decades of not being trusted and being required to be compliant, we will need to support our teachers with great literacy PD.)

First, the teacher should screen the child’s reading ability. If the child is not experiencing problems then LET THEM READ!

IF there is an indicator of a reading issue, THE TEACHER should use an assessment tool(s) to diagnose concern(s) and then determine the best intervention for that child.

Fortunately, the US Department Of Education objectively evaluates reading programs/interventions and reading assessments and publishes a clearinghouse to help systems make informed decisions. However, some systems rely on shiny objects, sales teams, or poor research.

The work of Carol Connnor proved that when instruction matches what students need, they make improvements. Armed with information and a range of tools (not just one intervention program that helps particular kinds of students), teachers can make decisions about how to help their students!!!

If you’re interested in learning more about how programs were rated:

Reading program/intervention evaluations are published on the What Works Clearinghouse.

Assessment evaluations are published on the website of the National Center on Intensive Interventions.

5) 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. There has recently been talk of a teacher strike in protest, even though such strikes are illegal. Whether or not such actions take place, what’s your position on teacher pay? As Superintendent, how would you see to recruit and retain the best possible teachers for the state’s schools?

Teachers are underpaid. Period. For those entering the profession, there is no longer graduate degree pay, longevity pay (for anyone) and a changed salary schedule makes teachers top out on the salary schedule at $52,000.  In addition to healthcare costs going up, new teachers beginning next year will not have healthcare benefits after retirement. Supplements are helpful to teachers in large urban districts but most of North Carolina can barely provide even a small supplement.  

I am uniquely qualified to recruit the best possible teachers to the field because I am a lifelong educator myself.  While there is a lot of work to do for the education profession, it is still one of the most rewarding professions and I will inspire our youth to consider teaching as a career. 

In order to recruit the best teachers we must professionalize education careers.  In addition to higher wages, teachers need to have autonomy, opportunities for leadership and a voice in decision-making.  Expanding the once nationally recognized Teaching Fellows program is one way to do this. In order to recruit a diverse population of educators, we need to include HBCUs. I would also like to see a statewide high school cadet program. Our high school students have only seen teaching as a spectator, spending time behind the scenes could make a serious impact on their career decision.  Another cadre of potential teachers are teacher assistants and people in other careers that have always dreamed of being a teacher. Agressively recruiting and marketing for the profession will bring strong candidates to the field. I was once asked how to recruit and retain more black males to teaching. My response was to ask black male educators. By developing a task force of black male educators, they can advise me of strategies to reach others. 

Finally, while it is a long term possibility, I would like North Carolina to consider offering free tuition to anyone who goes into teaching and in return teaches for at least 7 years in a North Carolina public school.  By offering free tuition, Schools of Education will be inundated with extremely bright and eager teacher candidates. Our teacher pipeline is in crisis and big ideas are necessary to turn the tide. 

6) A Superior Court judge recently ruled that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide students with a “sound, basic education.” The judge’s ruling cited a consultant’s report arguing that the state’s per-pupil funding has fallen over the last decade, adjusted for inflation. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you believe state schools need additional resources to meet this constitutional requirement? 

I agree with the judge’s ruling.  Our schools have had to do more with less for at least a decade. I’m in schools at least twice a week and I know that classrooms are lacking basic supplies such as paper and textbooks and absolutely lacking innovative teaching materials for science, engineering and the arts.  However, more than anything schools need people; teacher assistants, nurses, social workers, psychologists, etc. If we truly want all students to be successful, we must provide instructional supports.   

7) 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?

The research is clear. White, affluent schools perform better than schools with large numbers of children in poverty and of color.  Most, if not all, of our lowest performing schools are the latter. So the real question should be how does North Carolina lift families out of poverty; higher minimum wage, affordable healthcare, decrease the number of food deserts and increase access to affordable housing and transportation. Schools cannot solve the issue of generational poverty.  Still, I do believe that we can do more IN schools to build success. Here are just some of my suggestions: 

Give those closest in proximity to the students the power to make decisions for their students and communities. 

Hire and support exceptional, diverse faculties.

Hire and support exceptional, diverse administrators.

Structure DPI to provide resources and remove barriers that will support community schools. 

Provide early intervention and educational resources the first 1000 days of a child’s life. DPI should be Birth to 12th grade. 

Provide programs and opportunities for paths towards careers. 

Provide high quality professional development.  I’d like to see a Teaching and Learning Academy at the Charlotte Hawkins Brown campus that brings together practicioners and faculty from our 17 public universities to provide PD to schools.

Hire the nationally recommended number of support personnel in every school.

Focus on the social, emotional well being of our students. 

Create an Equity Office at DPI that provides resources and support for issues of equity for all districts. 

Demand high expectations for all children.

8) 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 these issues?

At the very minimum, I would like a moratorium on opening charter schools. Charter schools are the “reform movement” of the wealthy and corporate America. They have not worked for nearly 2 decades and school districts have suffered because of them.  While public schools are underfunded, money is going to charters and duplicating systems while they are segregating our schools. Ideally, I’d like to move any *successful charter schools under the control of the district office. Under this new structure, school districts would have the option to grant calendar flexibility, increased school hours, and implement other initiatives and innovations if they thought they’d be an asset to the school system. 

*I define successful charter schools as those with diverse populations, provide transportation, free lunch and serve students with disabilities.

9) 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? 

No, I don’t believe tax dollars should go to private schools. aka – vouchers.

No. I don’t support expansion of charter schools because they segregate districts, starve the public schools of funding, have a lack of transparency in spending and “for profit” charters will cut corners and not do what is in the best interest of our communities. 

10) 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?

First of all, as a STEM teacher, I define technology as any manmade tool that solves a problem. In that sense, thermometers, calculators, even post-it notes are examples of technology. I believe technology has an important role in classroom instruction but I don’t equate that with screen time.

Currently, technology is not truly integrated into classrooms. I don’t see elementary educators teaching science, the arts or even social studies.  In elementary schools I see skills taught in isolation at a recall level. This type of instruction is simply paper and pencil or with screens. I believe a lot of time on devices is actually “de-personalized” learning.  

For the past 7 years I have helped teachers in elementary schools with large numbers of student in poverty teach engineering.  I co-founded the UNCG STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative. See our brief videos at You will see through our videos that in order to teach problem-solving and critical thinking our teachers and students need lots of materials and resources (technology) but they don’t need more access to computers. I believe we should adopt the “Next Generation Science Standards” and we should emphasize a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. That would create a state that emphasized advanced technology.  

11) Are there any other issues you would like to address that have not been included in this questionnaire? 

I ‘d like to be on the record as saying that policy has always come from the top and typically that means NCGA.  I believe that good policy should begin in the classroom. If we truly valued public schools, they would play a larger role in policy and budget decision-making. 

This is one of the many reasons I feel we MUST put an educator at the helm of public schools.