RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Three of the six Piedmont Triad parents chosen for a new state educational advisory board come from varied backgrounds but offer one somewhat united message: They want students in North Carolina to receive the best education they can.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt last week named 48 parents or guardians to serve on her Parent Advisory Commission, which a release said is designed to share aspirations for public education, feedback on policy or pertinent matters affecting K-12 education and recommendations, insight and perspectives with Truitt and others.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt (Photo: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt (Photo: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)

The 48 are divided into six members who represent eight regions. Each region includes two parents of students in traditional public schools and one each from charter public schools, private schools and home schools. The largest county in each region – that’s Guilford County in the Triad – has an at-large public-school representative.

It’s not completely clear which counties are grouped into which regions, but Buncombe, Catawba, Cumberland, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Pitt and Wake counties each anchor a region. You can see the full list of members here.

Those representing the Piedmont-Triad Region are:   

  • Treena Jackson – traditional public at-large (Guilford County). 
  • Dwayne Young – traditional public.  
  • Lillian Adams – traditional public. 
  • Jessica Hofstetter – public charter.  
  • Neely Turlington – private.  
  • Dan Stephens – home school.  

The release from DPI says these representatives were chosen from 3,500 applicants, but there is no explanation about the qualifications for those who were chosen and how that process might have worked.

Jessica Hofstetter (FROM COMMISSION MEMBER)

The News & Observer in Raleigh said that most applications were rejected because they were incomplete and that 693 were winnowed to 150, from which these 48 were chosen.

The Triad group

WGHP was able to identify and contact half of the representatives named from the Triad and reached out to a fourth person who appeared to be a likely selection, but there was no response through two avenues of approach.

Two of those volunteered to serve. Another said he was apprised of the opportunity and then volunteered. All have children in school systems. All are passionate about education and active in different ways, from parental roles to employees. And all think that parents need more voice in determining what can improve the learning experience:

Here’s who they are:

  • Jessica Hofstetter is the parent of five children, four of whom attend a variety of schools in Davidson County.
  • Neely Turlington is the parent of a child in private school in Winston-Salem where she works in the admissions office.
  • Dwayne Young is the husband of a kindergarten teacher and parent of a public high school student in Stokes County.
Neely Turlington (FROM COMMISSION MEMBER)

The 48 members of the commission will serve 2-year terms beginning this fall. Agendas and follow-up notes about meetings will be published, the organizational website said.

“This commission seeks to include all parent voices because every parent has a story to tell,” Truitt said in a news release. “Insight from parents who may not have a student presently enrolled in a traditional public school should be considered as we strive to make improvements to support all public school students’ learning and development.”

Truitt is a Republican who defeated Jen Mangrum, a former professor at UNC-Greensboro, in the 2020 election. Some Democrats have suggested that public schools should be a majority of the 48 seats, not just half.

Parents need to help

“K-12 education needs and opportunities in NC have been especially front-and-center these past two years,” Turlington, whose son attends a private school where she works, said in an email response to questions from WGHP. “Parents are more aware of what is and isn’t serving their students. They are demanding more information about curriculum, budgets, and they want accountability at all levels of administration.

Dwayne Young (FROM COMMISSION MEMBER)

“As a parent, I, too, want to understand better how policy is affecting our classrooms and what can be done to improve outcomes. We need to ensure our students are prepared to be productive citizens in our communities and ready to make an impact in the workforce.” 

Young, a retired employee of Guilford County Emergency Services, is the pastor of a small church in Stokes County, where his wife teaches kindergarten and his son attends public high school.

“I was presented the opportunity by local school officials and applied in hopes of having a voice at the state level for a small rural county system and to voice the concerns and positive aspects of the system from a parent, teacher and student perspective.”

Hofstetter perhaps has the most unusual and broadest background. She has five children, some of whom attend traditional public schools and a public charter school, from toddler through middle school. Some of them have disabilities.

All of that has led her to an active role in education.

“I had started my advocacy journey many years ago as an elected parent representative for Early Head Start near my hometown and have continued gaining knowledge ever since in not only Early Intervention but also the Special Education process,” she said. “My specific interests in Special Education are inclusion, banning the use of restraint and seclusion, behavior and parent participation. 

“While my educational background is not specific to Education, it is specific to the area of Social Justice, advocacy is key to that. I have also received mentoring from several educational advocates with many years of experience.”

‘Voice of impact for improvement’

People hold signs and chant during a meeting of the North Allegheny School District school board in McCandless, Pa. The nation’s school boards are asking President Joe Biden for federal assistance to investigate and stop a growing number of threats made against their members. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP, File)

Each expressed passion and advocacy for the educational process. With so many school districts being embroiled in screaming attacks on school board members, threats against them and their families for issues that in some cases have been imagined – such as critical race theory – and manufactured, such as addressing gender identity issues, these three expressed rational hopes for improving the entire system.

“NC schools have trailed the nation in too many areas for far too long,” said Turlington, whose son attended public schools before moving in middle school to Winston-Salem Christian School. “Superintendent Truitt has created a great opportunity by asking parents to come to the table. It is my hope that she will hear parents’ concerns and best practices, and allow those voices to affect policy for the betterment of all schools. I want to be a voice of impact for improvement and educate others on how to be the same.” 

Hofstetter said she “applied for a seat on this commission to help bring change to our educational system. It is my hope that we can begin to start bridging the gap between school districts and parents and we can provide important feedback that will assist in updating legislation and compliance procedures to allow our schools to be more diverse and inclusive. 

“It is also my hope that we can make changes to the legislation that govern public charter schools receiving federal and state funding to be held to the same standards as traditional public schools,” she said, “including a significantly higher rate of highly qualified and licensed teachers becoming the updated requirement, update current legislation regarding the use of restraint and seclusion, and parental consent being required prior to an Individualized Educational Program being implemented by any Traditional Public School or Public Charter School in North Carolina.” 

Said Young: “My hope is since our voices were solicited, they would be heard and acted upon at all levels of school management.”