Candidates for NC School Superintendent Focus on Early-Childhood Education

RALEIGH, N.C. – Education leaders recently gathered in Raleigh to discuss how to help North Carolina’s children reach grade-level reading by third grade. Research has shown by the time children are 8 years old, their reading skills can predict future academic achievement.

Mary Jones is principal of Bailey Elementary School in Nash County. She pointed out the opioid crisis and worsening poverty in the eastern part of the state have created the perfect storm for social-emotional issues among young children, that she said must be addressed in order for students to reach grade-level reading.

“We have seen a large increase in social-emotional issues with mental health. So as an administrator, we’ve been trained on mental health lately. We actually have an onsite service,” Jones said.

The meeting also included a discussion between all six candidates currently running to replace state school superintendent Mark Johnson. Candidates discussed their ideas about how the state can continue to improve kindergarten through third grade education. Voters will elect a new superintendent of public instruction next year.

Jones said the Pathways Action Framework, guidelines developed by early education experts to help children stay on track from birth through age 8, help fill in the gaps that typical education policies don’t address.

“So as far as teaching the whole child and looking at that emphasis, I think that’s an area that the framework addresses that I don’t think policy has really gotten hold of,” she said.

Terry Stoops, vice president for research at the John Locke Foundation, said after hearing the candidates’ proposals, the question remains how the state will help local communities, businesses and nonprofits enhance early childhood education.

“We can have all the money in the world invested in early care, but we need to make sure that all of our communities are on board, all of our stakeholders are on board, and everyone is contributing to the success of our children,” Stoops said.

Candidates also discussed their ideas on how to restructure systems so that children of color are learning in environments that are free of cultural and racial bias.

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