June Atkinson has served as the state superintendent for almost a decade.
During her tenure there have been a number of significant changes to the state’s public education system, including the adoption of common core standards, the proliferation of charter schools, and continued debates about where education fits in the state budget.
High school dropout rates have been steadily declining since the 2006-2007 school year. But this year North Carolina public schools received letter grades for the first time, and more than two-thirds of schools received Cs, Ds, or Fs.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Superintendent June Atkinson about the state of public education in North Carolina. She is currently visiting public schools throughout the state to talk about her Give Five-Read Five initiative.
Teachers and TAs
“We are pleased that there is a proposal to raise beginning teacher salaries to $35,000, although it is not as much as I would like,” Atkinson says. “We need to value them, and we need to pay them a competitive wage.”
Last year, 27 percent fewer people enrolled in teacher preparation programs in North Carolina colleges. Atkinson hears from teachers throughout the state, and many of them are looking to leave teaching, not because of disinterest in the job, but because of financial reasons.
“I am worried about our teaching profession,” Atkinson says.
The proposed House budget retains funding for teaching assistants, but it is unclear if that funding will remain in the final budget.
“A teacher assistant extends the number of hands and eyes and minds in the classroom to help students,” Atkinson says. “Many of our teacher assistants help with reading and math. They’re also there to help give the elementary school teacher a break.”
More than two-thirds of North Carolina public high schools received Cs, Ds and Fs, but Atkinson says the grades are just a snapshot of the whole situation.
“The schools receiving Ds and Fs are the schools with high poverty levels,” Atkinson says. “The schools receiving As are those schools with little poverty within those schools. It gives us an insight to the areas for which we need to give additional resources to teachers and local school districts.”
Atkinson is examining alternatives to testing. “I have yet to meet but one person in my entire life who really liked testing,” she says.
One possible change could be smaller, shorter tests throughout the year as opposed to the longer, end-of-year testing.
Give Five-Read Five
“We know that students who go home to a place without any books, that those students lose two and a half to three months of reading progress every single summer,” Atkinson says.
The Give Five-Read Five initiative encourages companies, neighbors, churches and other groups to help with providing books for elementary school students. The goal is to provide five books for each student. Atkinson says the program, in its third year, is still too young to fully understand its effectiveness.