James Barrett, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board member, is not running for reelection and is instead pursuing the office of state superintendent in the upcoming November 2020 general elections.
“Our state needs a really strong superintendent who is going to restore some of the respect within the department of public instruction, who is going to actually advocate for our schools within the General Assembly, make sure they’ve got the resources they need,” Barrett said.
Much of Barrett’s time on the board was spent working with local superintendents, county commissioners and the General Assembly advocating for local schools and funding for schools. He believes his experience with teamwork and advocacy for public education has more than prepared him for taking on this new role.
Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, attested to Barrett’s positive influence on the CHCCS district.
“Mr. Barrett has had a real positive impact not only on our students, but also on our community," Nash said. "You can certainly peruse our website and find test scores, increases in the things that are measurable, but then some of the things that are harder to measure might be things like relationship-building, could be morale, the inspiration of students and teachers, community engagement. Those are things that James has had an impact on.”
June Atkinson, former state superintendent of schools from 2005 to 2016, described a few of the many roles of the state superintendent, including directing the Department of Public Instruction to develop state board initiatives, working with the General Assembly to make laws relating to public education and improving local school districts.
However, she said the role goes beyond that.
“Not a part of law or policy is the major responsibility to listen to the voice of teachers, students, principals, educators and parents, and by listening to the voice of different groups of people (the superintendent) can be in a better position of making a recommendation about what is good policy for children,” Atkinson said.
According to Barrett’s campaign website, his four main campaign platforms are testing, resources, equity and safety.
“The number one thing I think we need to address is testing,” he said. “The testing structure put in place by the General Assembly doesn’t tell us anything valuable for students or teachers, and all it does is stigmatizes schools that have really high levels of poverty, it’s not helpful.”
He also said he believes in bringing back respect for teachers and educators, not just in terms of pay.
Barrett said while he was on the CHCCS board, he garnered much experience engaging in policy work for educators, including making sure teachers aren’t allowed to be fired for random reasons, having a process to protect teachers in their jobs and listening to teacher voices.
“I think that there are things we can do — without the General Assembly being kind to teachers right now — that we can do from a policy perspective at the state level to protect teachers and respect teachers all across the state,” he said.
Barrett is competing against five other Democratic candidates in the primaries that will take place on March 3, 2020:
- Former State Department of Public Instruction Division Director Amy Jablonski
- Education consultant Constance Lav Johnson
- North Carolina State University Assistant Dean of Professional Education Michael Maher
- UNC-Greensboro professor Jen Mangrum
- Wake County school board member Keith Sutton
Republican incumbent Mark Johnson has not yet announced a reelection bid.
The six candidates participated in a forum on Oct. 5 where they compared platforms and positions. Barrett said he believes his management experience and background in leadership and policy sets him apart from the other Democratic candidates.
“I thought that (the forum) was really well done," he said. "We all believe in a lot of the same things, have a similar outlook, there’s nobody there who’s going to take our schools in a bad direction. I believe I can be the most effective at the job."
Barrett said he is looking forward to spending the upcoming months working on his campaign.
“It is a challenging, low-information, down-ballot race," he said. "We’re continuing to get the word out through social media, traveling around the state to talk about politics and education. It’s what I enjoy doing, and we’re continuing to do that."