News: Quick Takes

High level departures continue at State Board of Education and DPI

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, pictured here in his office. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, pictured here in his office. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

Major staff changes continue to shake up the North Carolina public education system.  

State Board of Education member Greg Alcorn announced his resignation Friday, Aug. 10. He is the third member to leave the education board this month. Board member Becky Taylor announced her departure Aug. 3, and board chairman Bill Cobey sent his resignation letter Aug.1.

Alcorn, Taylor, and Cobey will stay on the board until the conclusion of the Sept. 6 monthly education board meeting.

Cobey first announced in July that he wasn’t seeking another term as chairman, simply saying “5 1/2 years as chairman is long enough.”

Cobey, along with Taylor and Alcorn, were appointed to the board in 2013 by former governor Pat McCrory. All three board members’ terms end in March.

In her resignation letter, Taylor said she will be living with her husband full-time in their beach house in Carteret County, which isn’t in the region she was appointed to represent.

Alcorn said his primary reason for leaving is to spend more time with his early childhood education nonprofit called ApSeed.

“ApSeed is designed to provide ‘Kindergarten-ready’ children to our fine public schools in North Carolina,” Alcorn wrote.

Gov. Roy Cooper now has the chance to appoint three people to fill the vacancies until their terms end in March without legislative approval. The General Assembly recently rejected two of Cooper’s nominees to the state education board.  

“The State Board of Education will look much different at this time next year, but it is not clear how those changes will alter the trajectory of education policymaking in North Carolina,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation said.

The Department of Public Instruction is also losing two high level staff. Chief Financial Officer Adam Levinson and Chief Academic Officer Stacey Wilson-Norman will no longer work at DPI.

SBE hired Levinson in March 2017, despite objections from State Superintendent Mark Johnson. Johnson’s objections can be found in an affidavit, obtained by WRAL, from a now settled lawsuit between SBE and Johnson.

Johnson also objected to SBE hiring Wilson-Norman in September while the lawsuit was pending. The state superintendent argued a bill passed during the 2016 special session granted him the authority to fill senior positions. SBE disagreed.

The N.C. Supreme Court settled the dispute between SBE and Johnson in June in a 6-0 ruling and upheld the constitutionality of House Bill 17.

In the aftermath of the state Supreme Court decision, Johnson reorganized the DPI power structure. In the reshuffle, Wilson-Norman was downgraded to division director for curriculum and instruction. Levinson’s position was reclassified with less authority in the hierarchy.

“The N.C. Supreme Court ruled that State Superintendent Mark Johnson had broad authority over the structure of the Department of Public Instruction and its employees, so it is no surprise that he is using that authority to make personnel changes,” Stoops said. “In fact, it was not a matter of if there would be changes, but when.”

Drew Elliot, communications director at DPI, couldn’t comment to confirm Levinson’s termination, but Cobey confirmed Levinson will no longer work for DPI come August. The SBE chairman said Wilson-Norman is leaving to the Cumberland County Schools Board of Education to take a position as chief academic officer.

“There have been quite a few changes, and some of them have been related to the new superintendent, but some of the things are related to people choosing to leave,” Cobey said.

Elliot did provide a statement from Johnson about Wilson-Norman’s departure.

“Stacey has been a wonderful person to work with and we wish her well as she continues a long career of service to North Carolina’s public schools,” Johnson said.