Op–Ed: How Did We Get Here And How Do We Heal Our School System?

By: Dr. Chuck Williams
Candidate for Johnston County Board of Education

In December 2019 sixteen people filed to run for the Johnston County Board of Education. At a recent candidate forum more than two hundred citizens turned out to hear from the candidates at an event that is often lucky to have twenty in the audience. Why the surge in interest?

The answer is obvious to anyone with a stake in the direction of our schools. This past year was marked by an unexpected budget deficit, troubling accusations from system employees, a fractured board of education, puzzling personnel decisions, and ultimately the resignation of the superintendent.

How did we get here? From a system that had an excellent reputation, improving test scores, and a booming population to support it, how did we find ourselves mired in controversy and dysfunction?

It would be easy to criticize the current leadership but when an organization loses its way there is often a more complicated answer than blaming the guests who arrived last to the party. Instead we need to take a deeper dive into all the issues outlined above.

At its core each problem is a result of a failure of leadership. Leadership – and vision casting – starts at the top but everyone plays a role in its execution. Administrators, the board of education, county commissioners, and even parents and taxpayers have to work together to achieve excellence. When one of the cogs in this “leadership wheel” fails, we all fail.

So how do we address our current problems? Any school board candidate who promises a quick fix isn’t being honest or realistic. Recovering the trust of the citizens, teachers, school employees, and parents will be difficult. It will require hard work, painful honesty, relationship repair, and building new bridges with our communities.

In my judgment there are four areas the the next board of education must address in order to change course and begin a climb back to the excellence our citizens expect and deserve.

Honesty and Integrity
Honesty and integrity are essential in all walks of life but especially in public institutions. The constituents must trust the motives of the board of education and that trust must be earned. The board and the superintendent much trust each other. Much of the difficulty our system has experienced this past year stems from a lack of trust. All the stakeholders in our educational system – the county leadership, local municipal leadership, school employees, teachers and parents all want the same thing – a great school system. The foundation for all these relationships is honesty and trust.

Equip our teachers to succeed
All the research data shows that the success of a school hangs on the performance of its teachers. To that end we must remain committed to attracting the best and brightest to teach in Johnston County. Salary is just one reason why someone seeks a job – teachers also desire meaningful professional development, great morale, a sense that our community values their profession, and a joy in being part of a county who treasures its community schools. We as a system must commit to provide all these things for our teachers.

Accountability and Economic Stewardship
Our current budget deficit is understandably a big concern for taxpayers. No deficit should catch us by surprise. I applaud our current board who is already working with our county commissioners on an objective per pupil formula that will give us a better projection for budget spending in coming school years. Accountability goes hand in hand with communication – keeping the public regularly informed of our finances for example.

Level the playing field for all students
We need to serve all the students in our system from the most gifted those with exceptional needs. We need to increase minority participation in our academically gifted programs. We must ensure good teacher pupil ratios in our classrooms. Every student from every school in the county – regardless of socioeconomic metrics – deserves a chance at the best education we have to offer. Continuing to work on standardizing curricula would be a step in the right direction; by ensuring all teachers have access to a high quality instructional material we can feel assured that students across the system are all getting the same opportunities to learn.

Conclusion
We stand at a crossroads. Our extraordinary population growth makes it even more critical that we have the right leadership in place to guide our system moving forward. As a parent, physician, teacher, school volunteer and community leader I am excited about the opportunity to represent your interests on the board of education. We have many other good candidates who merit your consideration. Please take the time to do your research and vote in the primary for the candidates who can provide the leadership we need. We can and we will heal our system of its current problems and achieve a higher level of success than ever before.

Chuck Williams, MD is a family physician with Horizon Family Medicine in Clayton and is a candidate for election to the Board of Education.

Editor’s Note: Any candidate running for political office in Johnston County is encouraged to submit an opinion editorial to JoCoReport. Our email address is JohnstonCountyReport@gmail.com

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