NC school superintendent ready to move forward with reopening, improving student performance

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I wish I could have been a student in Catherine Truitt’s class when she was teaching high school English.

Don’t get me wrong. I had great high school English teachers many years ago. I give them credit for helping me get where I am today.

But I get the feeling I would have learned from Mrs. Truitt the discipline and attention to detail that would have helped me learn to write better, faster.

Every word would be spelled correctly. Every subject would agree with its verb perfectly. My thought process would be more organized. I wouldn’t beat around the bush getting to the main point. And I’d also be even more passionate about what I’m doing.

Fast-forward to today. Catherine Truitt is North Carolina’s newly-elected state superintendent of public instruction. You may not agree with all her opinions on how to educate our children or how to reopen our schools. You may not agree with her politically.

But she argues her points effectively and authoritatively. She doesn’t hesitate to roll off statistics. She gets to the point quickly. And there’s no doubt she has strong feelings about the one-and-a-half million children in North Carolina’s public schools.

“The opportunity we have because of COVID to do the things we should have done prior to COVID is a great opportunity,” she told me during a recent virtual interview. “And I’m really looking forward to being one of the leaders to help us get where we need to go.”

That path will be long and challenging.

Too many North Carolina public school students were not performing well academically prior to COVID. And the pandemic’s only made the numbers worse.

She believes we’ve got to get the children safely back into in-person classes as quickly as we can, then work harder getting them properly educated than we did before everything shut down last March.

“We’ve got (recent) data that shows our students have slid considerably in math as well as reading, “ she said.

“And at some point, our leaders in education are going to have to decide where is the bigger risk? Is it allowing students to be in school five days a week with three feet of social distancing which is what our universities have been doing since June 6th or is it to allow the continued academic and mental health declines that we’re seeing due to a lack of in-person learning?”

She thinks reopening is going “slowly, but surely.”

She’s a Republican who supports Senate Bill 37 which mandates all the state’s public school systems offer in-person learning to any student who wants it while — at the same time — keeping remote learning available for those students who feel they need to stay home. In simpler terms, the bill would eliminate the state’s “Plan C” which is 100 percent remote learning. It also allows teachers the option of not returning to in-person instruction.

But she also told me she wouldn’t hesitate to send her own three children back to in-person learning in a North Carolina public school.

“School is truly the safest place that a group of people can be because it’s the easiest environment to control — much more easy than a restaurant or the grocery store or the mall or even gathering in someone’s house on a Saturday afternoon to watch a game,” she said.

Truitt is also looking past COVID.

She has a three-point plan for addressing learning loss: literacy, changing school testing and school accountability (so it better reflects how schools are working to transform teaching and learning) and human capital (finding qualified teachers who are willing to work in the state’s remote and/or poverty-stricken areas.)

There’s a reason literacy is at the top of her list.

“75 percent of third graders are not reading proficiently,” she said. “Three out of four are not reading proficiently, and that’s a problem.”

She prefers an emphasis on phonics (which teaches children to read based on how letters or combinations of letters sound) as opposed to what’s known as the “whole language” approach (which focuses primarily on the meanings of words).

“What the science of reading tells us is that the data is clear. A fat lady has sung. Phonics is the way that kids learn how to read,” she told me.

Spoken like a true English teacher.

For more information on Superintendent Catherine Truitt, click here.

For more information on her vision and priorities, click here.

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