What explains the interest in Johnston school board race?
Johnstonian News file photo
Is anyone surprised that 13 Johnstonians are chasing just three available seats on the county Board of Education? Is anyone surprised that two of three sitting school board members chose not to run again? (The third “incumbent” is in the race, but he’s never won an election; Al Byrd got appointed to the board when Tracie Zukowski moved out of the county.)
Likewise, is anyone surprised that charter schools are poised to proliferate in a county where traditional public schools have been the norm for better than a century? The folks who opened a lower-grades charter school in Clayton now plan to launch a high school in the county. And an Arizona-based operator of charter schools has begun construction on a school that will eventually house grades K-12.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain the large number of candidates who filed this year for the school board. The election two years ago drew a large number of candidates too, and since then, little about education in Johnston County has changed for the better. To the contrary, some would argue that matters have gotten worse.
Two years ago, test scores were low. They’ve fallen further since then, and parents are rightly upset. To its credit, the school board hired a superintendent who has pledged to have all Johnston schools earn a C or better on their state report card. But that same board then gave Superintendent Eric Bracy a contract extension beyond his deadline for bringing all schools up to par. That gives parents the impression the superintendent has no skin in the game. If he fails, he’ll still have a job or at least a generous buyout. The only losers will be children and taxpayers.
Also, two years ago, schools sent students home to learn remotely because of COVID-19, a move that even supporters now acknowledge came at a steep price to children. Evidence from across the county shows that remote learning was a failure; that students did not learn. And yet the Johnston County Board of Education was reluctant to bring students back to their classrooms.
But learning loss was always a greater risk to children than the virus itself. That’s because young people are less likely to contract COVID-19, less likely to transmit it, and less likely to get seriously ill if they do come down with COVID. Granted, children are not alone in their schools; adults are there too. But if children are less likely to transmit the virus, teachers, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers and other adults face greater COVID risk outside of school than in.
That was what the science told us about COVID, and yet Johnston school leaders could be selective about the science they chose to follow, ignoring pediatricians across the country who said students were better off in school than at home trying to learn via computer.
Likewise, Johnston’s school board — or, more accurately, Lyn Andrews — was reluctant to free students and teachers from what many saw as the bondage of COVID-19 masks, despite the science that said youngsters were less likely to transmit the virus.
But three school board members and countless parents weren’t arguing to ban masks from Johnston schools. They were arguing instead to give parents the choice to remove their child’s mask or keep it on. Likewise, that school board minority and parents said teachers should have been able to make that decision for themselves too.
Parents are up in arms also about what many have chosen to label Critical Race Theory. As far as we know, no Johnston school teaches CRT, and as far as we know, no parents oppose teaching children about this country’s deplorable history on race. But what they don’t want is any teacher making white children feel guilty about the mistakes their ancestors made. Neither do they want any teacher telling a child that he’ll never succeed because of his skin color.
The school system’s shortcomings — low test scores, learning loss and COVID mandates among them— are not lost on parents, who have for months now descended on school board meetings to argue for change. They’ve repeatedly voiced their frustrations, and the school board has often made matters worse by making decisions before hearing from parents.
We’re fans of public schools; never attending anything else. But public schools are not perfect, and neither are school boards, which are often predisposed to heed the wishes of teachers over parents. Never mind that parents have more at stake — the education of their children — and more invested — namely their tax dollars — than teachers. (But neither do we envy Johnston teachers, who are under unprecedented pressure to raise test scores quickly, and unlike Bracy, they do not have a guaranteed job after the superintendent’s deadline passes. Is anyone surprised that classrooms vacancies are hard to fill?)
We write none of this as an endorsement of anyone on the school board ballot. Instead, we’d simply like to note that when parents feel like no one is listening to what they have to say, they will descend not only on school board meetings but also on the Board of Elections office to make themselves candidates. It’s a lesson all school boards would do well to heed. Parents aren’t always right, but they’re always parents, and their children come first to them.
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