Two views on the Super search: Candidate Huey and Jeri Rowe

The News & Record’s Jeri Rowe has a column today on the upcoming GCS superintendent search…and so do I.

I have a Counterpoint that was printed in today’s issue as well…and look who just called me “another version of Vernon Robinson.” We’ll deal with that in a moment.

First, Jeri Rowe’s column:

Wanted: Guilford’s next superintendent

Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008

Dear school board:

I wouldn’t want to be you.

You need to pick someone — man or woman — who can step into Guilford County’s top education job and run one of the largest school systems in North Carolina without getting burned on the local political griddle. It won’t be easy. You all know that. But as you bring people in, here are a few tips to think about from parents, teachers, principals and education advocates. It’s something they want you to keep close as you search for the right person to replace Terry Grier before he goes coast-to-coast this summer to San Diego.

Call them the three Cs.


Community involvement.

And our kids aren’t corporations.

You say that you want everyone who’s interested to be involved in picking our next superintendent. Well, here’s your chance to bring Guilford County together and find some common ground on a constantly divisive topic: education.

Despite recent academic gains, our school system is still smarting from its merger 15 years ago. So, public input is crucial. It worked in Charlotte. It can work here. Remember those yellow “Get Terry Grier Outta Here” bumper stickers from a few years back? They arose from your plan to reassign students in High Point. That discussion led to months of rants about race and geography that often infect our sprawling school system like a virus.

Grier wore a bull’s eye on his back for that. To many, he became the most hated person in Guilford County. He could walk in a room crowded with parents and teachers and you could hear nary a whisper.

If Grier reeked, it would be one thing. But he did a good job earning $372,000 a year, with salary and benefits.

During his eight-year tenure here, Grier saw dropout rates go down, graduation rates go up and local student scores beat out our state’s averages on federal and state tests.

Plus, he did a slew of innovative things that earned him School Superintendent of the Year in North Carolina. And we all know that work snagged him his big-time gig in San Diego.

But he also had this my-way-or-no-way mentality that created insecurity — even fear — among teachers, principals and parents.

He followed a test-to-death edict that some say sapped creativity from the classroom and sent teachers scurrying.

It’s no wonder Guilford County has a 13 percent turnover rate.

Too many standardized tests. Too many worksheets. Too many requirements in which teachers had to be on the same line of every education page. I followed Kate Finch during her first year of teaching. She was voted as one of Guilford County’s best new teachers last year. And she was making some great headway in one tough school, High Point’s Ferndale Middle.

But those end-of-grade tests — our state’s way of keeping students and teachers accountable — broke her down. When she had to ask all those boring, lecture-style questions, her students would give looks that screamed, “Oh, my God!”

Of course, teachers and students need to be held accountable. We live in a numbers-happy world. But teachers need the freedom to be creative to keep their students engaged.

And we need a leader to encourage that. We need someone teachers will see in the classroom and chalk up as an ally — not some wonky educator who sees Guilford County as a line on a growing resume.

Sure, it would be cool if our new superintendent could step into a classroom — and team-teach. What a novel concept.

But remember, it’s our kids — and their education — we’re talking about. Our school system is not a job mill. It should be a place where our kids can believe they can reach the moon.

So, here’s your chance, school board. The three Cs. Don’t blow it.

Now, to my Counterpoint:

New board should choose superintendent

The following is a Counterpoint:
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. By Erik Huey
While some are dwelling on the legacy of outgoing Guilford County Schools Superintendent Terry Grier, it’s more important to look ahead because the task ahead is far more significant.We’re now faced with the mission of selecting someone who will run the school system and, while this will be a colossal task, there’s a smart way to go about it. With six school board seats up for election this year, it’s essential to consider two things: timing and quality.On timing, an interim superintendent should be named as soon as possible. Also, I’d suggest delaying the start of any search until after school board elections this year because it’s unfair to launch a search when it’s possible a lame-duck board will oversee the process.On quality, we must acquire someone who has these traits: a proactive management style; effective leadership and communication skills; the courage to tackle the big issues; an interest in supporting the cultural arts; a commitment to a safe school environment by punishing wrongdoers and enforcing rules and policies; the belief that a teacher’s voice is important; and the willingness not to seek retribution if employees report complaints.

He or she should be someone who will turn employee morale around; who believes a well-rounded education has more value than a test score; who will take responsibility and not pass the buck; who won’t recklessly spend money; and who believes that children of any color can succeed.

This person either should come from within GCS or somewhere locally, as there is a wealth of talent from within the Triad, and no need to hire a search firm.

We must involve the community in the search process through direct forums with any potential candidates, and appoint community members and teachers as part of the search committee.

We’ve reached a golden moment in Guilford County Schools history where we can begin putting our county’s children first before all else. This is an opportunity to turn things around, an opportunity for our schools to grow and shine.

Let’s not blow it.

The writer lives in Jamestown and is a 2008 Guilford County Board of Education candidate.


Did you notice how both my op-ed and Rowe’s ended? “Don’t blow it…Let’s not blow it.”

And I see I have another “detractor” out there who won’t be voting for me…notice this comment from “The Liberal Conservative:”


God help us, if this fellow gets elected. He’s nothing short of a Vernon Robinson.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Vernon, eh?
Hmm…It’s okay, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Because I dare speak the truth of what’s happening in our schools and the constant politicking among our “elected officials” here in the Peoples Republic of Guilford County, I’m the next Vernon Robinson, according to “Liberal Conservative.”
It reminds me of some of the hate-mail I received right after I publicly announced my intentions to run in late 2006.
It’s sad that some use name-calling when they can’t win an argument, it takes political discourse to a whole new low. I actually would love to discuss the issues with “L.C.” over coffee if he/she so desires. “L.C.” can e-mail me and we’ll set it up. I’m a very nice guy in person 🙂

I have thick skin, and I know my progressive message of change and reform won’t resonate with everyone…and I’m okay with that.

I may not win this election, but in the end, I will sleep at night knowing that I tried to lead a grass-roots effort to make a change for all of the children of Guilford County. Some of our citizens (such as the Liberal Conservative) continue to worship the establishment and the status quo. That’s okay if they think the establishment can do something better. But remember that our incumbents have a record, spotty and paltry at best. Look at how the Board acted this past weekend at their retreat.

Onward…we march!


Joint coverage today from my friend Sam Hieb at Piedmont Publius.

E.C. 🙂


Northern Guilford H.S. Opens for Business (GCS)

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. From GCS:

Northern High will open the doors of its new campus to students on January 29, 2008. An open house/ribbon cutting event is scheduled for February 17, 2008 at 3 p.m.

The only new high school included in the 2003 bond, Northern features a rainwater runoff system and natural daylighting. Although the facility is mostly complete, there are a few details and operational logistics still to be completed. Students, parents and staff should be aware of the following on the first day:

Athletics/Landscaping: All areas around the football stadium are off limits, including the track, due to the continuing construction of the grandstands and future continued construction of the track surface. Additionally, the tennis courts are not yet complete. Fencing will be installed around the courts in the next couple of weeks and the new rubberized surface for the courts will not be installed until warmer weather returns. The ground around the school has yet to be seeded or landscaped due to the cold weather; therefore, staff and students are asked to refrain from walking through these areas until at least next spring.

Traffic: Roadwork will continue at the corners of Spencer-Dixon Road and Hwy. 150 during the rest of the school year as the Department of Transportation and the contractor continue to install the turning lanes. Staff and students need to be alert around these areas.

Technology: Further technology enhancements are in review and being coordinated by both the GCS technology and facilities departments. In the interim, television monitors will not be tied into the network system, but all computers and telephones will be working.

Other: Contractors will continue to finish the flooring in many areas installing the final heat welding seams. In the interim, all sheet flooring will need to remain dry. No damp mopping or other liquids are to be on the linoleum floor until release by the contractor.

Construction personnel will continue to work in and around the school for the next few weeks completing a lot of “touch up” (painting, installation of the rubber base, etc.) in various areas. Most of the work will be done after regular school hours; however, should anyone be on site other than staff or students, they will have identification prominently displayed.


E.C. 🙂

On Education, Asking The Wrong Questions (CJ) Another good column today from the John Locke Foundation’s John Hood over at the Carolina Journal. Hood discusses why familiar questions continue to be asked every election cycle with respect to education, and why we continue to be disappointed when we throw up our hands when we don’t know how to fix the problems:

On Education, Asking The Wrong Questions
By John Hood

January 29, 2008

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. RALEIGH – We are about to see nomination battles heat up for several state offices, including North Carolina’s governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and state legislature. In all of these cases, look for education to be at or near the top of the list of debated issues – and for the candidates to assert with great passion answers to the usual, wrong questions.

Listening to the political rhetoric, North Carolina voters could be forgiven for believing that the state’s mediocre educational performance is caused by teacher pay that is lower than the national average, school funding that is too inequitable, a school year that is too short, and school leadership that is too diffuse. What are we to do about these problems?

The truth is that it doesn’t much matter, as these are really not pressing problems.

North Carolina’s teacher pay, for instance, is hardly low by national standards. The teacher union claims otherwise, but it fails to adjust nominal teacher salaries for differences in living costs, experience, and non-wage benefits. If you were making $40,000 in Lexington, North Carolina and someone offered you $45,000 to move to Lexington, Massachusetts, would you simply assume that you would be getting a $5,000 raise, or would you check to see how much more it would cost you to buy a home, drive a car, or purchase goods and services? Of course you would do the latter.

As my John Locke Foundation colleague Terry Stoops has demonstrated in a new report, accurate reporting of average teacher pay puts North Carolina 10th in the nation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that North Carolina policymakers ought not to raise pay in the future, especially if they do so in ways heavily weighted to retaining the best teachers and giving them incentives to take on difficult challenges. But it does argue for halting our fruitless fixation with across-the-board raises “to the national average.”

Another commonly held misconception is that school funding differs dramatically across North Carolina school districts. It’s just not true. Unlike most other states, North Carolina primarily funds public schools with state income and sales taxes, not with local property taxes. Furthermore, to some extent the quarter or so of school funding that comes from property taxes serves to equalize real investment by accounting for local differences in hiring and building costs.

Still another theme in our all-too-superficial education debate is that our schools are hampered by a calendar that is too wedded to our old agrarian culture and too short to impart core academic content to distracted kids. The real distraction is this debate about the school year. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with adjusting the calendar, either to eliminate the lengthy summer vacation or to add instructional days, the best-available data suggests that the educational benefits are likely to be scant, at least for most students. Schools in other countries don’t outperform ours because they are open longer.

Finally, one of the old standbys of North Carolina political talk about education has returned recently: the notion that governors should appoint the state superintendent of public instruction, rather than keeping the post elective. I’ve always favored the change, let me first say, but to be frank it doesn’t matter much anymore. Years ago, governors and state lawmakers took over education policy from superintendents, who now lack much in the way of formal power. The State Board of Education, appointed by the governor, makes most of the policy decisions. It even hires someone to run the Department of Public Instruction, though without the proper title. The General Assembly sets funding levels, mandates teacher pay scales and class sizes, and legislates major changes in accountability mechanisms.

Local school superintendents matter a great deal, but they are hired by local school boards, not DPI. Sure, let’s clean up the state’s organizational chart and shorten the state’s ballot, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the change will have much of an effect on educational outcomes.

North Carolina politicians ought to be asking different questions. Why have massive increases in taxpayer funding for public schools resulted in modest improvements, at best, in student achievement? Why do the state’s best teachers make little more than the state’s worst teachers? Why is it so hard to shove the latter group of teachers into professions for which they are better suited? Why does North Carolina continue to administer tests that are unreliable, too easy to pass, and impossible to compare across state boundaries? Why should bureaucrats, rather than parents, decide where children attend school?

And most of all, why do we continue to waste our time talking about the wrong things?

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.


E.C. 🙂