News: Quick Takes

State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction see leadership changes

N.C. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey, pictured in December 2016. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)
N.C. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey, pictured in December 2016. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)

Big changes are coming to the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced July 24 the reorganization of DPI and the creation of a few new positions. Meanwhile, SBE Chairman Bill Cobey said he won’t seek another term as chairman in September.

“Well, I think that 5 1/2 years as chairman is long enough,” Cobey said.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Cobey in 2013. Before his tenure on the state education board, Cobey was former chair of the state Republican Party and a one-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Cobey also served as the athletic director at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Bill is in my opinion the epitome of what’s good about North Carolina,” said Eric Davis, vice chairman of SBE. “He’s an incredible leader who promotes teamwork and partnership, and he does it in an incredible humble and selfless way.”  

Board members Becky Taylor and Gregory Alcorn shared that sentiment.

“He is extremely well-respected by the board, as well as by many others across the state,” Taylor said. “He cares deeply about education, and of course he’s always trying to make decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the students.”

“During committee and board meetings, he kept us on time and on point without any hint of rushing thoughtful conversation,” Alcorn said. “Between meetings, he worked countless hours on implementing laws and serving all students in North Carolina.”

Cobey said his decision to not seek another term as chairman was influenced in part by his term on the board ending in March.

“It would be illogical for me to be elected chairman then,” Cobey said.

Cobey declined to comment on whether he would stay on the board until March. The board will elect a new chair in September, but it’s unclear who will fill the position. Taylor said board members are still holding conversations about the matter.

“I’d love to have another Bill Cobey,” Taylor said.

“I hope whoever is in that role will be able to continue the spirit of teamwork and collaboration that Bill has created,” Davis said. “He is one incredibly determined and principled leader who has unbelievable courage to stand up for what he thinks is right.”

Cobey’s last year as board chairman was marked by conflict, as the State Board of Education battled with state superintendent Mark Johnson over control of the public school system.

During the 2016 special legislative session, the education board took issue with lawmakers’ passage of House Bill 17, which transferred power from the SBE to the state superintendent. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill was filed and reached the N.C. Supreme Court earlier this year.

In a 6-0 ruling, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the bill. Both sides claimed victory, even though the court ruled H.B 17 didn’t infringe on the state board’s constitutional role to “generally supervise and administer the public school system.”

Johnson has moved forward with his new powers and has started to reshape DPI. The state superintendent outlined the changes in an email to staff earlier this week.

“I am creating a new deputy superintendent structure to drive innovation, collaboration, and operational efficiency,” Johnson wrote. “All deputy superintendents will now have a more effective number of directors reporting to them, which allows us to flatten the org chart and break down silos in the department.”

Changes include naming Eric Hall, superintendent of the Innovative School District, to the newly created deputy superintendent of innovation. Hall’s division will oversee charter schools, the ISD, career and technical education, curriculum and instruction, accountability, and federal programs.

Pamela Shue will be deputy superintendent of early education. Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin remains as deputy superintendent of district support. The newly created deputy superintendent of operations has yet to be filled.

The new organizational structure can be found here.

“I know there has been a significant amount of change at DPI over the past 18 months,” Johnson wrote. “I appreciate all the work staff and local districts have done while these shifts, sometimes painful and sometimes merely distracting, have played out around us.”