Current State Superintendent Mark Johnson is running for lieutenant governor, leaving the chair for North Carolina’s superintendent open to many candidates on both the Democrat and Republican sides.
For the Republicans, the candidates running are N.C. Rep. Craig Horn (D-Union) and Catherine Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina.
On the Democratic side, the candidates include former Wake County School Board member Keith Sutton, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Board Member James Barrett, former teacher and owner of CityPolitical Magazine Constance Lav Johnson, President of the N.C. Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators Michael Maher and Jen Mangrum, a professor at UNC-Greensboro.
Truitt, who is running against Horn in the Republican primary, said one of the main messages of her campaign is emphasizing alternative forms of higher education.
“A lot of kids graduate from high school in North Carolina, start a degree at a university and don't finish,” she said. “So what other pathways are available? Community colleges, apprenticeships, alternate forms of seeking a degree like a micro-bachelor's, or stackable credentials.”
Truitt spent time as a teacher in a high school, a piece of her resume that she said distinguishes herself from Horn.
“I think that a superintendent is someone who should have been a teacher for a significant period of time who understands what failing schools look like and how they need to be fixed,” she said. “What needs to happen to make them better.”
Horn said his background in the legislature and knowledge of the political process is what will be attractive to voters.
“I think they're gonna be looking for someone who brings the leadership experience, who brings the knowledge of budgets, who brings in an ability to work with the General Assembly and who knows how to manage people,” he said.
He said his campaign is focused on providing student-centered funding and policies, focusing on children’s literacy and treating the state’s teachers better.
The Democratic primary field is slightly more crowded, but equity and teacher care seem to be at the top of the candidates’ priorities. Michael Maher said equity is his number one priority. Equity involves distributing resources equally to schools based on need, but Maher said current evaluations of schools are flawed and do not consider socioeconomic factors.
“Schools can be doing amazing things with kids in terms of helping them become more proficient in reading and math and other subjects,” he said. “Yet, it doesn't demonstrate that on their report card, so I think we need to get to a different system of accountability that looks at equity metrics in addition to growth and proficiency rate."
Maher also said the testing system is in need of a re-evaluation since it is tied with school performance grades. Maher said the current testing system does not take into account a variety of subjects from social studies to music.
“I think a lot about how do we balance the need for assessment because we do want to ensure that kids are in fact learning,” he said. “We want to ensure that kids aren't falling further behind, but we need to balance out against this accountability idea, and how do we determine what schools are really doing well, and which schools need some support?”
Democratic candidate Jen Mangrum said her campaign aims to bring back respect to North Carolina’s teachers and educators.
“Everyone knows a teacher or someone in their family's a teacher, and they realize that their job has gotten much harder over the past few decades,” she said. “It's not just about salary. it's about having a voice, and the process is about being trusted to make decisions in the classroom that you know are best for kids.”
The rest of the candidates in the Democratic field have listed their concerns with school equity on their candidate issues pages. According to their platforms, the candidates also agree on putting an emphasis on the educators and raising teacher pay.
Early voting begins Thursday, and Election Day is on March 3.