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Moving kids forward: A look at DPI’s new Office of Learning Recovery & Acceleration

Rupen Fofaria: Who are you?

Michael Maher: So that’s a like, well, I think it’s an important question, but it’s pretty far reaching, right? So who am I, really?

That’s Michael Maher, the executive director of the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration at North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, at the start of a conversation with me this month.

My name is Rupen Fofaria. I’m the equity and learning differences reporter at I had the chance to sit down with Maher and talk about his role in building out a brand new office at DPI.

In April, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt announced her Operation Polaris. It lays out her vision for operations of our public education system over the next four years. And at the center of Operation Polaris is the Office of Learning Recovery & Acceleration. Its mission, according to the DPI website, is to serve public schools by providing the research and support needed to make evidence-based decisions to combat learning loss and accelerate learning for all students.

What does that mean? What will it look like? And what role will this office play in supporting schools after two years of pandemic interruptions and stressors?

That’s what Maher and I talked about on an August afternoon the week before most schools welcomed students back for a brand new year.

Maher is a 25-year educator, having worked as a high school science teacher, an assistant professor at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, and an assistant dean at N.C. State University’s College of Education. He has served on various state committees and commissions, like the one on teacher preparation and licensing that reports to the State Board. Those are his credentials, and the experience that informs his work today.

But we believe it’s important to really know more about those leading our public education system. So we start with the deeper question: Who are you? It’s a question that was first asked to us by Donnell Cannon, the 2021 Edgecombe County Public Schools Principal of the Year.
In early 2020, Abdur Gant, now a graduate of Edgecombe County Public Schools, asked that question to Maher.

Gant: Who are you?

Maher: I’m a first-generation college student.

Gant: Who are you?

Maher: I’m the son of a railroad worker.

Gant: Who are you?

Maher: I’m a person with a Ph.D.

Gant: Who are you?

Maher: A nearly 30-year resident of North Carolina.

A year and a half later, that’s where my interview with Maher begins — with: Who are you?


Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.