James Barrett announced last Friday that he will not seek re-election to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education as he seeks a 2020 bid to become North Carolina state superintendent.
“Given that turnover is good for boards, and given that I want to take on the chance to serve students and teachers at a broader level, I won’t be standing for re-election this year as I commit myself to work across the state,” Barrett posted on his campaign website on Jan. 11.
Barrett served eight years on the board — including two years as chairman, and he is currently the longest serving board member.
Barrett’s departure leaves four available seats on the board in Chapel Hill’s 2019 municipal elections.
In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel, Barrett said he is focusing his superintendent campaign on restoring respect for teachers — starting with increasing teacher pay and reforming standardized testing.
“We spend way too much time stressing out about standardized tests. Students are stressed as young as third grade and all the way through high school, and teachers are being held accountable for data we don’t believe is making a difference for education,” he said.
Barrett endorsed all three incumbents potentially running for re-election, Margaret Samuels, Pat Heinrich and Rani Dasi, and also offered an open door to potential challengers.
“They are smart people who care, and I know are committed to the success of each and every student in our district,” Barrett said. “But I am also willing to talk with anyone else who wants to consider running.”
Barrett will face fellow democrat, Jen Mangrum, a former UNC Greensboro professor, in the primary election. Incumbent Mark Johnson was the first republican state superintendent in North Carolina in 100 years and has not yet announced his plans for re-election.
Margaret Samuels, chairwoman of the CHCCS Board of Education, personally endorsed Barrett’s candidacy.
“I think you can’t possibly get someone with more support and more advocacy for public education than James Barrett,” Samuels said.
During his tenure on the board, Barrett said his greatest influence on CHCCS was addressing disparities in performance between disadvantaged students and their peers by hiring an equity director. He said the focus on equity has led to the school system modifying discipline practices, changing hiring practices to recruit and train teachers of color and making instructional changes to provide culturally relevant information to students.
“I remember when he first ran for school board, he was one of the biggest voices of ways to close the achievement gap of what we need to do and focus on to get that done,” Samuels said. “He’s really brought out the conversation on equity in our district in a new way, and across the state we need to focus on equity.”
Barrett will face Mangrum in the primary election in 2020.
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