A 21st century model is State Supt. Of Education Dr. June Atkinson’s goal for education in the North Carolina Public Schools (NCPS). Atkinson is running for re-election against John Tedesco. She has been the state superintendent since 2005.
For the first time ever, the NCPS are changing their entire curriculum at every grade level, implementing the Common Core instead of the standard course of study, which has been in place for decades, according to Atkinson.
“Our goal of remodeling is to personalize education, so that every child will graduate and that they will be career, college and citizenship ready,” said Atkinson. She believes that the Common Core will allow teachers to “go deeper in learning” and implement more activities that will improve students’ problem-solving skills and creativity. It will also answer the question that every student asks, “How am I going to use this stuff?”
One of Atkinson’s achievements as state superintendent is playing a role in raising graduation rates.
“When I became state superintendent in 2005, our graduation rate was 68 percent. This past year, it was 80.4 percent. This is an all-time historic high of our graduation rate in our state,” said Atkinson.
One of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI)’s methods was working with local school districts across the state to help provide them with “more options for students geared to the students’ interests,” such as Early Colleges where students have the option of taking college-level courses, career-technical centers and 9th grade transition programs, said Atkinson. Another method was sending staff members in the department to schools with low student achievement to work with them on strategies for improvement.
“We’ve had great success in moving these schools to a much better place in terms of student achievement and graduation rates,” said Atkinson.
Technology is another tool that Atkinson believes enhances student learning and raises overall student achievement. DPI is using its Race to the Top grant dollars to build a technology infrastructure to allow students and teachers to access educational resources through any digital device. NCPS also has the second largest “virtual high school” in North Carolina, allowing students to take courses their high school might not offer, such as e-commerce, said Atkinson.
Another “tool in the toolbox” to enhance student-centered learning are charter schools, said Atkinson. She would like to see “friendly competition but substantive collaboration” between charter schools and traditional public schools to give students optimal learning options.
“It is my goal as state superintendent to make the public schools the first choice for all students. One of the tools is our public charter schools,” said Atkinson.
Atkinson wants to use a 21st century model for raising student achievement not only at the high-school level but at the elementary-school level, as well. Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, third-grade students not proficient in reading will be retained in transitional classrooms.
“It’s a short-term solution with a long-term loss,” said Atkinson. “Retaining a child in the 3rd grade…really is a 20th century model. I want us to have a 21st century model, where we personalize education.”
Atkinson plans to work with the General Assembly to secure funds for summer reading programs. She said she wants to personalize reading for children who are below proficiency level and have small groups of students working with teachers to improve proficiency levels. She also wants to expand early childhood education opportunities to increase reading comprehension levels, especially for children in homes where literacy is not emphasized.
“Supporting early childhood education is really an investment that will pay off,” said Atkinson.
While Atkinson has seen NCPS make progress in her time as superintendent, she said her goal is to reach a “100 percent” graduation rate and keep students at the core of learning.