Activists In Our Schools – The Bureaucrats

Part 2 of a Multi-Part Series
By Michelle Antoine

In January, Johnston County Schools welcomed Tonya Williams Leathers, from Durham County Schools. She is our newest six-figure hire, approved by the Board of Education in November 2020. She replaces Dr. Ben Williams who took a position with Wilson County Schools. She was well liked by her Durham staff, they found her to be dedicated and engaged. Ms. Leathers will be making a significantly higher wage of $125,000 annually, while she has less diverse experience and fewer academic credentials, than Dr. Williams who was earning $97,607.

The Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) introduction letter describes her as a leader in excellence, regarding achievement. The schools she oversaw as Principal showed some growth, but she failed to bring her schools to proficient levels in standard content learning. The debate over growth versus proficiency has been ongoing for two decades. The measure of how much progress a student makes over the year, even when the student does not become proficient, is considered growth in today’s education circles.

The more traditional measure of success is through proficiency, by meeting the standards, typically on a test, to demonstrate sufficient learned knowledge to be at an established grade level of learning. Ms. Williams was awarded credit for growth, which encompasses any increase in a nebulous forward movement, rather than actual mastery displayed by proficient scores and better rankings. Growth in failing students doesn’t show excellence, according to NC Department of Instruction compiled data all three schools she led had either overall declines, or almost no change.

In 2008-2012 she served as principal of Eno Valley Elementary School. According to public documents, in her term the school went from an averaged standard score across all grades of 16 in 2008 and an NC state rank of 11%, meaning 89% of North Carolina schools scored higher, to lowered scores by 2012 of 14 with a 7% NC state percentile rank. The school remained a DPI graded F school.

From 2012-2016 she was principal at Sherwood Githens Middle School, the standardized scores across grades dropped from 23 to 17, with NC statewide performance staying the same at 15% for those years, and it remained a D rated school.

Leathers spent 2016 thru 2020 serving as principal at Riverside High School, this was the one school she moved average standardized scores from 25 in 2016 to 31 in 2019, and increased the statewide performance from 32% to 34%, yet stayed a C graded school through her tenure. The 2020 progress grades aren’t yet available to average in.

All three schools have abysmal rankings, and she could never budge them out of their mediocre to failing DPI grade stations, yet she was chosen to drive excellence in our schools according to the JCPS announcement letter. In that letter Superintendent Eric Bracy stated, “I am confident that her experience as a strong instructional leader will help our district increase student academic achievement.”

She will be working as the Assistant Superintendent to High Schools, and her job entails the following, “She will plan, develop, and monitor results of programs to be implemented across all high schools, assist in the implementation of district initiatives, and develop policies, standards, and a vision for all high schools.” Ms. Leathers stated her purpose for coming to Johnston County is to drive the equity agenda, saying, “I am excited for the opportunity to assist Dr. Bracy as he continues to focus on equity and excellence in Johnston County Public Schools.”

So, what will Ms. Leathers vision look like?

In my opinion, it appears it will be hyper-political and focused on subjective social leveling. During the 2020 General Election, candidate Biden made a total of 57 campaign stops. One was at Ms. Leathers Riverside High School. She retweeted the announcement on her now suspended account, news articles covered the stop widely. She also tweeted out her support of using the leftist Anti-Defamation League’s article as a resource tool for children to deal with election results.

The article stated, “Many young people are afraid, especially those who identify in groups targeted during the campaign”, suggesting the Trump campaign targeted groups of people for physical or emotional harm. I found where she promoted and donated to an organization called Working to Extend Anti-racist Education under the Color of Education organization. The mission statement of this group is, “We are collaborates with children, families and educators to dismantle systemic racism in schools and beyond.” The group provides training for educators in such things as desegregation and diversity in teaching. The group is funded by partnerships including one with Duke University.

This anti-racist idea is premised on the theory that white culture is built on the oppression of people of color, and in fact our entire culture right down to food is racist. Duke University Sanford School, with guiding board members who partner to the anti-racist program Ms. Leathers promoted an article and podcast called Identifying and Countering White Supremacy Culture in Food Systems. The project narrative reports, “Whiteness permeates the food system in the ways it articulates white ideals of health and nutrition, offers whitened dreams of farming and gardening that erase the past and present of race in agriculture, mobilizes funding to direct programming toward non-white beneficiaries, and creates inviting spaces for white people.”

In this short clip of a training by Extend Anti-Racist Education, the leader describes how a teacher writing a minority child up for misconduct is a display of the teachers need to control her space through power, putting the child in a “system of harm”. To me it is clear the driving message is that disciplining students of color in the classroom is racist.

The video moves on to describe how media and culture is “white affirming”, and how we must be “disruptive earlier on to how racial biases are forming at earlier ages.” It is suggested this form of “white supremacy” must be driven out of the culture, that white students are affirmed in their whiteness, and not children of color through books, toys, and media.

You are now described as a white supremacist for having a garden and racist for being a white agriculture land-holder. If you have any doubts to what I am describing, or need a demonstration of the sheer insanity of the narrative being spun, listen to the podcast on the Duke article above and download the research brief.

I believe the new vision being ushered in with the approval of the Johnston County Board of Education will do away with Equality. We’ve moved into the arena of Equity. Equality ensures opportunity, while equity promises outcomes. The belief that some people start with disadvantages, so a stop gap must be placed to ensure all outcomes can be equal. These disadvantages can be race, income, family situation, disability, gender, the list is endless. Lip service is paid to raising standards, but actual policy has removed rigor, discipline, and graded merit.

The Color of Education, the organization Leathers fundraised for, had a speaking engagement in 2018 for Nikole Hannah-Jones. Jones is the author of the 1619 project, a story of the racist founding of America, which has been roundly criticized for its deeply flawed historical record of truth.

In my opinion, Ms. Leathers is a progressive activist in her personal life. Leathers wears her rainbow catch phrase shirt on her profile picture for social media, with the statements, “love is love, black lives matter, science is real, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal,” and adorns her social media with Black Lives Matters banners. I believe she will drive the Vision of the Future for Johnston County High Schools.

How will your child be treated if they don’t fit the right racial group, income group, academic strata, political group? What about the child who has law enforcement professionals in their family? When families send their child to a community school, they certainly do not expect a challenge to the moral and cultural values of home, they expect a sound basic education, as is constitutionally provided for.

While Ms. Leathers has the right to her beliefs and political activism, it should not permeate into her job responsibilities. The focus is supposed to be on traditional or vocational education, which has neither a leftist or right center view, rather a value of instructional learning and building knowledge for academic proficiency. Yet, her stated purpose in being hired is to promote equity.

The Chief of Equity for Johnston County Schools, Crystal Roberts stated in her October 8, 2020 Racism in Education forum hosted by Johnston County Heritage Center, “We want to teach people how to behave in an anti-racist way…we really and truly want anti-racist behavior and that takes action.” Understanding what ‘anti-racist’ behavior is becomes paramount to uncover how Ms. Leathers role will manifest itself. Given the JCPS Equity Chief’s statements and how anti-racism is encapsulated, how can Ms. Leathers position be anything but political and meant to include her leftist, activist agenda.

Divisive policy under the guise of fairness and successful outcomes is bound to fail. It already has. Measures implemented since 2010 under the Race to the Top grants that launched Common Core have failed students. School performance charts over the past decade tell the story with historic drops in national math and reading scores.

I reached out to Ms. Leathers for a comment for my commentary article. She replied, “As an assistant superintendent for Johnston County Public Schools, I work with all principals and staff to deliver robust educational programs consistent with the policies of the Johnston County Board of Education and the North Carolina State Board of Education. If you need any additional assistance regarding this request, please contact Crystal Roberts in the Office of Equity, which was created to advance the district’s commitment to fairness and impartiality. To that end, the office provides support and resources in alignment with the district’s overall goal of student achievement, district policies, and practices, and works collaboratively with Curriculum and Instruction to ensure that the content supports that goal.”

While Ms. Leathers may have an honest belief that her progressive activism will be good for children, and I acknowledge some good ideas in this new wave do exist, I believe the implementation of anti-racist policy is damaging. It won’t change education outcomes, and it will simply disenfranchise a new set of people.

Yes, our past is marred with terrible injustice specifically to the black community. Historical preservation and acknowledgment of those wrongs should continue. The fabric and founding principles of the United States remain good, demonstrated by our ability to reverse those reprehensible policies. Acknowledging that reversal, rather than ruminating on a past, we cannot undo and punishing a corrected culture by simply upending it, won’t likely provide a closing of the achievement gap in schools.

I believe the equity explosion has become an educational echo chamber, flooding new promising ideology to cure schools. It is a paper mountain, as fast as it was built it will burn. Equity and excellence will never be in the same wheelhouse – they are antithetical. It will only drive worse outcomes for all.

Michelle Antoine, B.S., B.A., M.S. is a Johnston County resident, formerly licensed teacher, counselor, education reform advocate and mom to eight children.




Read Part 1: Activists In Our Schools – The Propagandist

29 COMMENTS

  1. “The left is infecting education!!” Are we surprised by this? They’ve been doing this for years. The only notable exception is DARE, which was an ultra right wing propaganda program that completely f**ked up generations but luckily that program is mostly gone.

    By it’s very nature public education is a leftist program because it’s a socialist program at heart. And yet you on both sides don’t learn and keep voting in these people to influence the children and keep allowing taxpayer money to go to waste without any accountability.

    The only way to fix education is to abolish the public education system completely and move to a private education model where parents are given the true choice, whether it’s private school, home school, online learning, or people banding together to pay for private teachers on their own.

    But God forbid I say that people should be responsible for the education of their own kids and get government out it. Then don’t be surprised when more bullsh*t like this happens.

    • Dude, you’re hardcore-I like it! I agree with the idea of giving parents the choice to send their kids to a private school. The only problem that I see with that is that money follows the child. Take the kid out of public schools and that system will lose that funding. Probably why Demokkkrats and the teacher unions fight against it.

    • On its face this stance that socialism is only on the left is flawed. National Socialism is what you are seeing here. Socialism in local government driven by a nationalized extreme agenda.

  2. Hit the nail on the head with this one, single comment! “Equity and excellence will never be in the same wheelhouse – they are antithetical. It will only drive worse outcomes for all.” I wish public education (and society in general) could understand this.

  3. It should be noted that the entire board voted in favor of this new hire at the salary stated including Johnson! I am concerned that this article needs is very presumptuous by stating concerns that do not yet exist with Leathers. This lady needs to be given a chance before one presumes there will be a problem. This op-Ed demonstrates division or an attempt to create division before Leathers has even been given a change.

    • There has been major divisions in this system before these articles….. Division between teachers and the county office, teachers and BOE, teachers and superiors, teachers and TEACHERS, communities and their local schools, parents and schools, liberals and conservatives….. it goes on and on. Politics, personal agendas, good ole boy system, being politically correct, and making everything EQUAL has ruined our public school system. That has created the division, not this article.
      Sure, this article shares this lady’s personal opinions, but those opinions are based on truths that can’t be disputed. And this lady shares the same opinions with a very large number of employees in the Johnston County School System, parents and tax payers.
      Recent hires by the BOE for this school system and appointing a new BOE member that clearly didn’t even know the role of the BOE in his interview show us that the BOE has a political and social agenda. It has nothing to do with what is BEST for the students.

  4. It is easy to pick anyone’s career apart, especially when you triangulate from one point. You can draw a straight line anywhere you wish. Durham schools are notoriously tough. I’ve known people that have taught there. Teachers and principals have to fight administration and parents and have virtually no resources. Economic conditions are notoriously harsh there. The fact that she fought the fight there alone gives her credentials to be given the chance.

    I’m sick of people acting as if “left” views are awful. Our country, our state and certainly our county have a long history of racism. Ignoring it, pretending it didn’t happen or wishing it would go away are never going to solve the problem. And yet, the opinion piece is nothing more than a right leaning shame piece. This person deserves a chance and more importantly, the School Board which you voted in, voted for her. Please, don’t act like Johnston County has all the best and brightest lining up to work here for free. It is competitive out there and opinion pieces like this make it even harder to get and keep good talent.

    Give her a chance. If she doesn’t do her job, fire her. It is what happens at regular jobs. Given all the shenanigans that the school board has been and seems to continue to be up to, you’d think your focus would be there.

    • She’s already done stuff that shouldn’t have gotten her hired to begin with. She’s clearly had chances and done poorly. Get off your liberal high horse. BLM has no place in the school system. Personal life is one thing.

  5. Time to privatize the whole school system into charter schools and school vouchers and get rid of the school board altogether. Have the county commissioners hire a strong and capable superintendent to push through these reforms!

  6. This is why I don’t send my children to public school, Black lives matters is a racist, socialist organization, they are the same as the KKK, who hired this racist ? It’s time to vote out ALL of the school board . Very disappointing and sad .

  7. I really wish Ms. Antoine put some of her efforts into supporting our schools in lieu of ad hominem attacks against our personnel. I would love to see her sub in some of our schools, for example, but not in our ELA classrooms for, well, the obvious reasons.

    • Very ignorant response. The so-called “attacks” show her lackluster performance in her field and other things that bring into question her character and bias. Things people to not take lightly when it comes to educating children.

  8. You know you’re true colors are showing when you write an op-ed that puts forth an argument of how you fear one person’s “implementation of anti-racist policy is damaging.” Additionally, how said policy “won’t change education outcomes, and it will simply disenfranchise a new set of people.”

    Now you are worried about a group of people being disenfranchised? It’s quite clear, Ms. Antoine, who falls under your category of “new set of people”. Your closet racism is showing…you might want to tuck that back in.

    • Well of course any criticism of any heavily politically charged agenda (endorsing marxist ideology is heavily politically charged) is racist. I think you may want to tuck your own agenda back in. Things like this, pushed in public education will create an exodus from public education. Push hard enough and the push back is going to be rather fierce. For a good long while some people have been pushing and forgot what a push back feels like. It can be a rude reality check.

    • I should also add, since these days the bar for racism is EXTREMELY LOW, suggesting such things as rewards being solely merit based is now racist/bigoted I am not so certain telling people they are racist means a darned thing. At all.

  9. Thank you very much for this informing research and report. I appreciate that you care enough to dig deep and provide parents, and others, with this information.

  10. Anyone who uses the terms anti racist and equity are telling you all you need to know long before you make a call to hire them or not. Those are word that are designed to sound harmless but are charged with all the juice needed for far leftists to know the goal and for the normies to not panic when they hear the words. If you do not understand the full meaning of “anti racist” and “equity” you need to get to work.

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