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Perspective | An open letter to the next NC state superintendent of public instruction

The following is a letter from Matt Bristow-Smith, Kisha Clemons, Mariah Morris, Maureen Stover, and Anthony Jackson. Bristow-Smith and Clemons are the North Carolina Principals of the Year for 2019 and 2020. Morris and Stover are the North Carolina Teachers of the Year for 2019 and 2020. Anthony Jackson is the 2020 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year.

Dear Candidates Jen Mangrum and Catherine Truitt,

One of you is on the cusp of election into a role that will impact the life trajectories of 1.5 million children. As educator advisers to the State Board of Education, we are excited to work with you on behalf of those children to move North Carolina public schools forward.

As you step into this new role, allow us this opportunity to welcome and challenge you on three fronts.

Put children first.

We already know that you care about children, but most of them are too young to vote. Although you are an elected official, your primary stakeholders are not a political party, your donors, or your voters. Your primary stakeholders must be children.

Listen closely to those who are nearest to our children: North Carolina’s dedicated teachers and principals. Give voice and power to our children who are least represented in the political spheres of Raleigh, so that we are designing with our students who rely on the education system to empower their futures.

Remember the Student Town Hall hosted by EdNC in Edgecombe County to elevate rural student perspectives on mental health supports, restorative justice, the opportunity gap, and so much more. Thank you for your courage to listen to children. We challenge you to continue centering children in every aspect of your work as our new state superintendent.

Be an equity warrior.

Last month, the State Board of Education signed North Carolina’s first “Resolution To Support Equity And Excellence In North Carolina Public Education,which codified the Board’s commitment to support each and every child’s health, development, and education. In the Board’s five year strategic plan, our first goal is to “eliminate opportunity gaps by 2025.” As our new state superintendent, you will be positioned to work with the Board to level the playing field for kids living and learning in every zip code in our state.

Keep children living in our Tier 1, high-poverty counties in the forefront of your work. Keep our BIPOC scholars close to your heart. Empathize with the challenges of being LGBTQ in today’s public schools.

We encourage you to take an equity stand by designing policy that centers our marginalized students rather than framing them as an ancillary consideration that occurs after policy is written. Our children should not have to fight for equity. They are counting on us to fight for them, and we are counting on you to fight with us. 

Lead for change.

We are living in a watershed moment in North Carolina public education that will require our next state superintendent to be a bonafide change-agent. We need a state superintendent who will bring a unifying voice to bridge the disparate entities who impact public education, including those who get mired in party affiliations.

We need a state superintendent who will fight to implement the WestEd report’s eight critical Leandro recommendations to ensure a sound basic education is available for each and every North Carolina child. We need a superintendent who will wholly commit to our state’s attainment goal of 2 million highly qualified workers by 2030. And we need a state superintendent who will engage our public school system in the same social justice self-examination that is occurring in the public sphere. Our children are counting on you to be this leader.

On behalf of our public school children, thank you for taking on the challenge of serving as our next state superintendent at such an important historical moment. We know you will lead with heart and integrity, step into this historical opportunity to move our state forward, and fight for what is right and good for children.


Matt, Mariah, Kisha, Maureen, and Anthony

Matt Bristow-Smith

Matt Bristow-Smith is principal at Edgecombe Early College High and the 2019 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.

Mariah Morris

Mariah Morris is the 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year. She proudly teaches second grade at West Pine Elementary School in Moore County where she integrates STEM into her student-centered curriculum.

Kisha Clemons

Kisha Clemons is principal at Shuford Elementary in Newton-Conover City Schools and the 2020 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.

Maureen Stover

Maureen Stover is a high school science teacher at the North Carolina Virtual Public School.

Anthony Jackson

Dr. Anthony Jackson is superintendent of Vance County Schools and the 2020 A. Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the Year.