DPI improperly denies public records request in spying case, claims computer inventories are confidential 

On Monday, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction improperly denied a public records request filed by dozens of concerned citizens, making it more difficult for the public to learn which member of Superintendent Mark Johnson’s staff illegally snooped on a retiree’s personal text messages.

The citizens are seeking computer inventory records which would reveal who got former K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie’s MacBook Air after she retired.  

Guthrie turned in her DPI-issued laptop when she retired in 2017 but neglected to log out of her iCloud account.  More than a year later, a text message between Guthrie and another former DPI employee was intercepted and used by Superintendent Mark Johnson as pretext for cancelling a multimillion dollar K-3 reading assessment procurement.

The superintendent has maintained ignorance about how the text message was obtained, stating in a sworn deposition last fall that a paper copy of the text message was slid under the door of Deputy Superintendent Pam Shue by an anonymous whistleblower.  Johnson has mocked allegations of impropriety with references to his “elite squad of ninjas.”  

In DPI’s denial of the public records request, Director of Communications Graham Wilson claimed that the requested computer inventory records were confidential personnel records:

“The requested asset information is confidential pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 126-22, -24 and thus not subject to disclosure.  The Department is consequently prohibited from releasing such information.”

The statute Wilson cited falls under The Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, which protects certain sensitive personnel information from being openly available to the public.

That information doesn’t include inventory numbers of computers.

According to Dr. Brooks Fuller, Director of the NC Open Government Coalition, public agencies often try to stretch the personnel exemption to fit anything about an employee.  However, the North Carolina Supreme Court has already affirmed that protected personnel information is only information that:  1) is collected by the government employer; 2) for a purpose enumerated in the statute. Those protected purposes are: application, selection, promotion, demotion, transfer, leave, salary, contract for employment, benefits, suspension, performance evaluation, disciplinary actions, and termination. 

Dr. Fuller told me, “The question of whether a public employee was assigned a specific publicly funded device does not, in my opinion, meet any of these statutory reasons for exemption. I think this is likely an attempt by DPI to extend the reach of the statute beyond its natural and plain meaning.”

The Department of Public Instruction seems to be working very hard to keep the public in the dark about what really happened with Carolyn Guthrie’s personal communications.  That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has paid attention to DPI’s practices regarding public records under Mark Johnson’s leadership. It’s especially unsurprising at this point in time, considering that Johnson’s primary for Lieutenant Governor is right around the corner.

Hypothetically speaking, if Johnson himself had direct knowledge of criminal behavior occurring under DPI’s roof, and if he lied about that in a sworn deposition, this would be a really inconvenient time for such details to come to light.

Of course, North Carolina’s public records law doesn’t include a bad political timing exemption–just as it doesn’t include an exemption for those computer inventory records.

  • 796
  • 1.8K

EVAAS errors lead to wrong NC teachers being promised thousands of dollars in bonuses

*note updated with correction at end*

A coding error reportedly made by the company that produces EVAAS value-added measures for North Carolina schools has resulted in the wrong 3rd grade teachers being informed that they had earned thousands of dollars in bonus pay.

The error means an unknown number of North Carolina school districts were unable to meet their statutory obligation to pay the bonuses before the end of January–and that districts have to figure out the best way to break the bad news to teachers who were counting on the additional income.

It also promises to make the controversial practice of rewarding a handful of teachers for student test growth even more divisive than it already is.

In a January message to Human Resources Directors across the state, NCDPI’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support Dr. Tom Tomberlin explained that, due to a coding error, “some teachers who were previously identified as eligible for a state or LEA bonus are no longer eligible to receive one or both bonuses.”

Tomberlin added that he understood teachers would be disappointed to learn they wouldn’t receive a bonus, and that his office would work to “answer any questions about the data corrections.”

I reached out to ask Dr. Tomberlin how many teachers were impacted by the error. At the time of publication Tomberlin hadn’t responded.

I also contacted SAS to inquire how the error had occurred and how many teachers it had affected. SAS, too, didn’t reply.

The Cary-based SAS software company has provided the EVAAS value-added measure for North Carolina schools for more than a decade. The tool is intended to show how effective educators are by measuring precisely what value each teacher adds to their students’ learning. It relies solely on standardized test data to make that determination.  

EVAAS is broadly unpopular with educators, many of whom believe that using a single high-stakes test to measure the value teachers add to their students’ learning is ridiculous.

North Carolina’s EVAAS teacher bonus scheme was conceived by Senator Phil Berger and implemented by state lawmakers in the 2016 budget, offering teachers the chance to earn as much as $9500 in additional pay by being in the top 25% for EVAAS growth in their district and state.  Although they have since been broadened to include other grade levels and subject areas, the bonuses were initially intended as a way of improving 3rd grade reading results after the 2013 Read to Achieve legislation had failed to do so.

Three years later, test results indicate the bonus program is also not improving student learning:

The results are consistent with research on the impact of financial incentives in education which finds that, not only do bonuses fail to increase student achievement, in some cases they even decrease it.  

Introducing a spirit of competition among educators that you are already underpaying isolates teachers and damages the relationships that are critical to maintaining a positive school culture where collaboration and learning can flourish.  Furthermore, paying a bonus to a 3rd grade teacher but ignoring the impact that educators in grades K-2 had on the growth of the same children, or the work that the media specialist, the EC teacher, the school counselor, or the administrators did to help those students be successful is highly problematic.

Now imagine receiving a letter in December saying that you’d earned bonuses worth several thousand dollars. You make plans to pay off medical bills, you go ahead and book a spring break flight–maybe even quit a part-time job in anticipation of the windfall. Then weeks later you’re told that you actually didn’t earn anything–but the teacher next door did. What’s that going to do to collaborative spirit?

The error in question was reportedly made by SAS but not discovered by the software company. Rather, school personnel noticed discrepancies and raised red flags, which led to DPI asking districts to put the brakes on paying out 3rd grade bonuses until the problem could be straightened out.

The fact that SAS wasn’t the first to notice the error raises important questions about whether this is the first time the wrong teachers were identified as having earned the bonuses.

The mixup also presents a great opportunity to revisit whether this is the best way for North Carolina to be spending $39 million a year.

Update: Keung Hui of the Raleigh News and Observer reports the data error was made by DPI and not by SAS. That conflicts with information I received earlier in the week from a reliable source, but if DPI is publicly owning the mistake it seems likely to be true.

I’ll reiterate that, well in advance of publication, I reached out to both SAS and DPI’s Tom Tomberlin (as well as DPI’s Chief Business Officer Alexis Schauss) for clarification on how the error had occurred. None of them responded.

Superintendent Mark Johnson should probably remove the Donate button from his official website

Since its launch in the fall of 2018, Mark Johnson’s ncsuperintendent.com website has been criticized by many in the education world as being way too self serving for an official state communication tool.

The site hosts an assortment of awkward photo ops with students and a dedicated self-adulation page. It even offers a portrait of the state superintendent for download as a .pdf.

As if those features weren’t campaign-y enough, both the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy pages of ncsuperintendent.com include Donate buttons.

To be clear, the pages appear to be incomplete boilerplate areas of the website which do not actually funnel anything into Johnson’s campaign coffers and speak more to his incompetence than anything else.

Still, it’s not a good look for an elected official who’s been flooding educator inboxes with emails intended to gain political points and drive additional traffic to the site:

Johnson’s .com website was initially rolled out during 2018’s Hurricane Florence, and the state superintendent used the storm as an excuse to shut down DPI’s site and direct all its traffic to his new personal site for two days.

Staff at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology was not amused.

Documents obtained through a public records request show that, just a couple of weeks later, the NC State Auditor’s office relayed a complaint to DIT alleging the superintendent was “abusing state resources and denying citizens’ rights to legitimate resources.”

The next day, State Chief Risk Officer Maria Thompson drafted a “Notice of Non-Compliance with State Statutes” for DPI’s Chief Information Officer Michael Nicolaides, pointing out various ways the website’s launch had violated state law:


That evening, Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette pumped the brakes on the sternly-worded letter, and there is no evidence it was ever sent to DPI.


Mark Johnson has since filed to run for Lieutenant Governor, and it’s looking increasingly clear that his intent all along was simply to use the office of superintendent as a stepping stone to elsewhere. That would explain the inappropriate blending of his official duties with political campaigning.

North Carolina’s public schools deserve a leader who is 100% committed to working on their behalf, who is not in it for personal gain.

November 2020 can’t get here soon enough.

T. Greg Doucette: “DPI personnel would be found guilty if they were prosecuted” in intercepted text message case

According to Durham attorney T. Greg Doucette–of #SilentSham fame–the individual(s) at the Department of Public Instruction who allegedly intercepted personal text messages of retired K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie would likely be found guilty if a prosecutor chose to pursue an indictment.

A text message containing confidential information about North Carolina’s K-3 reading assessment procurement was used by Superintendent Mark Johnson as a basis for cancelling the procurement process last year. Johnson eventually awarded the contract to Istation.

Questions have since been raised about whether the message was obtained through improper monitoring of a former employee’s personal communications. Superintendent Johnson has publicly mocked the allegations, and DPI’s Director of Communications Graham Wilson has referred to them as “blogger conspiracies.”

However, interception of electronic communications could constitute a violation of state law.

Here are Greg Doucette’s thoughts on how the matter might play out in court if whoever monitored the text messages is prosecuted:

So when a potential client meets with me because they’ve been charged with a crime, part of that consultation focuses on 3 key things:

==> (1) Is there a missing element to the crime? <==

Every criminal statute has certain pieces to it that have to be met, where the defendant’s conduct has to “match” what is prohibited; lawyers call these required pieces “elements.” If the person’s conduct doesn’t match up with every element – if a single element is missing for any reason – the person can’t be convicted of that particular crime. 

For example, you can’t be convicted for possession of a controlled substance if the thing you possessed is not a controlled substance. Common sense.

==> (2) Is there an exception? <==

If the person’s conduct matches up with each of the elements of the crime, the next step is to look for an exception (a “loophole”). Most statutes have exceptions written in for various things, making normally-criminal conduct acceptable in certain situations.

For example, you can’t be charged with DUI for riding a horse while drunk, because NCGS §20-138.1(e) specifically excludes horses from the definition of “vehicle.”

Some exceptions show up in judicial opinions even if they’re not codified in statutes. For example, in most states, recording the police performing their duties in public is protected by the First Amendment even if a state has a statute criminalizing it.

==> (3) Can the law be invalidated? <==

In some situations, the only option is to argue the criminal law itself is unconstitutional. This can happen if the criminal law is:

* too vague (e.g. sentence enhancements for a “crime of violence”) or

* too broad (e.g. use of “inappropriate or offensive” language in public) or 

* violates the federal or state Constitution (e.g. laws that ban flag burning)

An invalid law is no law at all, and if the law is found unconstitutional the person can’t be convicted under it.


If you get to the end of this process and the answer to all 3 questions is “No,” there’s no missing element, no applicable exception, and no way to overturn the law, there’s a high likelihood the person will be convicted.

In the case of DPI and their snooping on a retiree’s iMessage account, a prosecutor who chose to indict the involved personnel would likely win a conviction.

Let’s go through the 3-step process…

==> (1) Is there a missing element to the crime? <==

Start by taking a look at the statute, NCGS §15A-287(a)(1), which has 2 required elements:

“a person is guilty of a Class H felony if … the person:

[#1] Willfully intercepts, [or] endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, 

[#2] any wire, oral, or electronic communication.”

The first required element is the willful interception. Here, there’s no plausible dispute over whether that took place.  Even if the initial batch of Guthrie’s messages were found inadvertently, the ongoing monitoring for a year clearly indicates willful interception by DPI personnel.

The second element relates to the type of thing being intercepted, each of which incorporates the federal law definition. Specifically, an “electronic communication” is “any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photooptical system.” Text messages squarely fall within that definition.

So the first question is answered “No”: there is no missing element. The conduct of DPI personnel matches the statute.

==> (2) Is there an exception? <==

The NC wiretap statute includes some exceptions. For example, if the person recording has “the consent of at least one party to the communication,” then there’s no crime (this is the meaning of “one-party consent state,” “two-party consent state,” etc).

There are also exceptions that allow intercepting publicly available communications, intercepting communications necessary for job-related purposes like “mechanical or service quality control checks,” or intercepting communications through legal processes like “an electronic surveillance order.”

Based on what is known so far, none of the statutory exceptions contained in §15A-287 apply to DPI personnel. No party to the communication consented to the surveillance. The messages weren’t generally available to the public to fall under the main exceptions. The iMessage platform is run by Apple so DPI can’t claim the job-related quality control exception. And there is no indication anyone at DPI obtained a court order to allow the surveillance.

So the answer to Question #2 is “No,” there is no usable exception.

==> (3) Can the law be invalidated? <==

With frequently charged crimes like wiretap violations, it is often exceptionally difficult to have the law invalidated because it has likely been subject to several court challenges and subsequent legislative modifications to make it “ironclad.”

Here, the statue is specific rather than vague; narrowly tailored rather than overbroad; and does not violate either the federal or the state constitution.

So the 3rd question is also “No”: the law cannot successfully be invalidated.

That leaves us with:

==> No missing elements
==> No usable exceptions
==> No way to invalidate the law

Meaning DPI personnel would be found guilty if they were prosecuted.

The myth of school choice in North Carolina

It’s a common refrain among charter school and voucher advocates:  “We need to provide families with choice.” And on its face, it sounds pretty good–we all expect choice when we go to the store for peanut butter, don’t we?  But what happens when all my peanut butter options are equally unpalatable, except for the ones that are priced beyond my means? Does the fact that I have a choice really make much of a difference at that point?

Since the cap on charter schools was lifted by North Carolina’s state legislature in 2012, the number of charter schools in the state has doubled. This year we have roughly 200 charter schools in operation, serving more than 100,000 students across the state (overseen by a staff of 8 people). That’s a lot of peanut butter, with very little quality control.

While charter schools in some states have been used successfully to improve academic performance for low income students, in North Carolina they’ve been used predominantly as a vehicle for affluent white folks to opt out of traditional public schools.  Trends of racial and economic segregation that were already worrisome in public schools before the cap was lifted have deepened in our charter schools. Now more than two thirds of our charter schools are either 80%+ white or 80%+ students of color.  Charter schools are not required to provide transportation or free/reduced-price meals, effectively preventing families that need help in those areas from having access to the best schools.

Academic achievement in our hypersegregated charter schools has played out along socioeconomic lines, just as it generally does in traditional public schools.  Charter schools that serve primarily low-income families have struggled, with percentages of charter schools rating D or F according to NC’s school report card system exceeding those of their traditional public school counterparts.  On the other end of the spectrum, charter schools rated A or B are more common than traditional public schools that earn those grades. They’re also populated mostly by wealthy white students.

2014 study by researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill found that students of color in segregated schools tended to make smaller gains in reading than students of color in more integrated schools.  Research also shows that white students don’t experience a decline in those integrated settings. Segregated schools are more likely to have inexperienced teachers, higher teacher turnover and student mobility, and lower quality facilities.  Students at more integrated schools see improved academic outcomes, increased educational attainment, and increased likelihood of living and working in diverse settings.  

Despite the clear benefits, it’s very rare in North Carolina for charter schools to be intentional about seeking out an integrated population of students.  In fact, until 2015, state law didn’t allow charters to use socioeconomic status in their admission lotteries. Even now that they have permission to do so, only three charter schools in the state actively use SES for their lottery: Community School of Davidson, Charlotte Lab School, and Central Park School in Durham–although those schools still only serve 5%, 9%, and 30% Economically Disadvantaged populations respectively.

I don’t believe that charter schools are inherently bad, and I recognize the fact that there are charter schools doing good work in North Carolina–even some that serve low income students and do so well.  However, on a systems level, the effectiveness of our charter schools depends on the policies that govern them. If our state legislators are really serious about providing families with good choices, they must enact policies that move us in the direction of racial and economic integration.  Until that happens, let’s stop pretending that ‘choice’ benefits all students equally.

Letting go of homework to nurture the whole child

I was hurrying down the hall at 7:58 when I saw one of my 7th grade Language Arts students in a side hall, crouched next to a sobbing little boy. I stopped and asked Sonia (not her real name) what was going on. With tears welling up in her eyes, Sonia told me this was her brother’s third day of kindergarten, and he was scared to go to class. 

I fetched our elementary counselor to calm the child down and get both students on their way, but for the rest of the day I was thinking about the position Sonia was forced into — part sister, part mother, part student. The image of Sonia’s tears welling up led me to think in a much broader way about the many needs my students have that are not connected to reading and writing.

Soon after, at a district Instructional Leadership Team meeting, I found myself in a conversation with a colleague from another school around the book Academic Conversations. We discussed the loss of “social capital” that can result from our educational practices, driving wedges between schools and the communities they serve and even taking away time family members need to spend time with each other. This teacher explained that her whole school had made a decision to stop assigning homework. I began to think about how many of my own practices are of the “teach how you were taught” variety rather than those made with the whole child’s needs in mind.

Teachers are under a tremendous amount of pressure to raise reading scores. Our test results are projected on screens in front of our colleagues and included in school report card grades for the world to see. For years I required weekly independent reading with a metacognitive literary response component, justified by my belief that that more practice leads to stronger reading skills for all students. I gave students regular take-home practice assignments, individualized as best I could for 150 kids, and at-home projects designed to hone their critical thinking skills and writing ability. Depending on the child, these homework assignments probably averaged 3-4 hours per week. And mine is not the only class they have.

But when I reflected on the actual results of this homework approach, I had to admit that the students most likely to complete assignments were those who needed it least: high-functioning students who were afraid of getting a bad grade. My readers who needed the most support often didn’t do the assignments at all. Then I was left trying to carve out time during class for them to do the work, which  meant them missing a lesson about something else. In many cases, those students needed a lot of face-to-face support to understand assignments and do them correctly, so the homework was more suited to the classroom anyway.

I also began to listen more carefully to my students’ other needs. Many of them have hours-long bus rides just to get home. Many have other responsibilities in the home such as taking care of younger siblings while parents work. Many are involved in extracurricular activities that keep them busy for hours after school. For all of these students, it seemed that my expectations might be adversely impacting their lives with negligible benefits.

I decided then and there that I would try abandoning homework for the year — despite the fact that I had just spent the first couple weeks of the school year explaining my homework requirements and trying to develop student buy in.  

My new message to parents explained that I would require students to keep up with novel reading at home when we didn’t have time to read everything in class, and that assignments they didn’t complete during class would also need to be finished at home. But I told them I wanted my students to be able to rest and recharge their minds as well as spend time together with family and just be kids.

Parent feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One told me, “Thank you for your consideration and kindness with respect to the other, non-academic aspects of your students’ lives… I look forward to the day when all teachers share your perspective of nurturing the whole child and kids can run around outside for hours every evening instead of sitting and doing more schoolwork!” Another said, “This email, seriously, almost made me cry with delight… A friend and I were just discussing THIS MORNING how checklist oriented we’ve become; you’re on the cutting edge of something.”

It was clear that, at least from the parent perspective, this was the right move to make. I am still concerned about getting my students to master all the content I want them to learn in the very limited amount of time that I have with them. It’s possible that my end-of-year reading test results in the spring that cause me to reevaluate my thinking. But for now, what I am mostly thinking about is Sonia being able to spend time with her brother after school, talking to him about how his day was and helping him to feel excited about coming back again tomorrow. Not doing Language Arts for an hour when she gets home will allow her to be the best student, sister, and mother that she can be.

*Update: This reflection is on changes I made to my homework policy in 2016. In the years since, my students have achieved the highest reading proficiency rates I have seen in my career.

Here’s how you can support Justin Parmenter for NCAE Region 3 Director

I recently announced my candidacy for the position of Region 3 Director for the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).  Elections are for NCAE members and will be conducted by email from April 4 to 14.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis and heading toward what will be one of the most important general elections in many years.  Here in North Carolina, 2020 brings the opportunity to elect policymakers who will be much more open to listening to educators and working together toward the changes our students need.  

When that long-overdue transformation happens, having the right teacher leadership in place is going to be incredibly  important.

Over the past few years, I’ve used my platform NotesFromTheChalkboard.com to serve as a watchdog on state legislators and Superintendent Mark Johnson and keep our state’s educators informed about important issues that impact them and their students.  I’ve developed strong working relationships with lawmakers who believe in public schools, and I’ve been a tireless local advocate with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education and Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners as well.  

All of this work has helped me grow personally and professionally, build a strong statewide network of educators and policymakers,  and gain skills which will be crucial for effective leadership.

As Region 3 Director I will bring my passion for advocacy, education policy and communication to bear on turning Region 3 into a place where every educator understands local, state, and national education issues and is empowered to use their voice as a tool for changes that benefit their students and colleagues.

I am running against a strong incumbent, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work for me to get elected.  If you’re willing to support my campaign, here’s how you can help:

  1. Share this post with colleagues in your network, especially NCAE members eligible to vote in Region 3 (that includes Anson, Cabarrus, Gaston, Kannapolis, Lincoln, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Mooresville City, Rowan, Stanly, and Union Counties).

  2. Complete this survey indicating your support for my candidacy and encourage others to do the same:  https://tinyurl.com/JPforNCAE3. If I’m going to win, I’ll need contacts in as many Region 3 schools as possible, and this survey is how I’m going to do that.

  3. If you’re able, consider a contribution to my fundraiser for postcard mailings.  Every dollar enables me to reach three voting members of NCAE Region 3 with information about my campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/f/postage-for-justin-parmenter-for-ncae-region-3 

Whether you are a member of NCAE or not, and whether you support my candidacy or not, thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you do to change lives in your school every day.  Working together we can transform this state into a place where your work is respected and supported as it deserves to be.


Justin Parmenter
Charlotte, NC
Candidate for NCAE Board of Directors, Region 3

New Leandro order requires state to act “expeditiously” in providing “adequate resources” to public schools

In a Wake County courtroom this morning, the judge presiding over the Leandro case signed a consent order which requires the State of North Carolina and the State Board of Education to “work expeditiously and without delay” to create and implement major changes to North Carolina’s public education system.

Judge David Lee says “considerable, systemic work” is necessary in order for the state to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education to students, as our current system “leaves too many students behind–especially students of color and economically disadvantaged students.”

The defendants have 60 days to prepare a plan of action for changes they intend to implement in seven areas:

*Teacher development and recruitment, including professional development and competitive pay

*Principal development and recruitment, including professional development and competitive pay

*A finance system that provides adequate resources, especially to at-risk students

*An assessment and accountability system that includes multiple measures of student performance

*Additional support for turning around low-performing schools and districts

*Improved access to high-quality Pre-K

*Alignment of high school to postsecondary and career expectations to ensure student readiness for life after K-12

Not one member of the North Carolina General Assembly attended the hearing, and NC Superintendent Mark Johnson was also notably absent.

You can see the last two pages of the consent order below, and the entire document is linked in the first paragraph above.


Justin Parmenter: Fearless and Committed Candidate, NCAE Board of Directors Region 3

It was May 16, 2018.  We had waited in line outside the Legislative Building for hours before finally getting inside the House chamber, and I can still feel the goosebumps on my arms as the teacher chants of “Remember, remember, we vote in November!!” were so loud that the Speaker of the House Tim Moore had to stop talking and wait for us to finish.  We were so powerful that day.

May 16, 2018 was my first full day of membership in NCAE.  I had officially joined the day before when it dawned on me after a couple of years of advocacy work that the best path to winning the schools we all deserve was to be organized and strategic on a large scale–to be a part of a team.

I’m very excited to announce my candidacy for Region 3 Director for the North Carolina Association of Educators.  Please allow me to introduce myself to our members and explain why I feel I deserve your support.

I’m in my 25th year as an English teacher and have been in North Carolina since 2002, having started at James Martin Middle School that year.  Since 2006, I’ve been teaching 7th grade Language Arts at Waddell Academy, a Charlotte Mecklenburg magnet school.

In 2016, I got a fellowship with Hope Street Group’s North Carolina Teacher Voice Network, an organization that trained teachers on how education policy works in our state and how to have a stronger impact on it.  Through that experience, I learned about the power of writing and speaking up to inform the public about the struggles educators and students face and to pressure decision makers to do better. I started showing up regularly at Board of Education meetings and speaking on issues that were important to me and my students like increasing support for our immigrant students and approaching the school district’s equity issues with a sense of urgency.

That work also connected me with some incredible education advocates from all over the state, and I found myself on the Advisory Board of Red4EdNC, an organization of deeply engaged educators that works tirelessly on improving conditions for our public schools.  I began to learn that waiting for our policy makers to do the right thing was foolish, and that the change was going to have to come from the bottom up.

In May of 2018, as multiple schools districts began to close ahead of the Rally for Respect, it became clear to me that NCAE had real power in North Carolina and offered the best avenue to making those changes a reality.  I decided I wanted to be a part of the team.

In 2019, I was present at the NCAE Convention as a Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators delegate when our members voted overwhelmingly to hold the May 1 Day of Action.  The energy when we made that decision and when we felt the love and support of our governor was absolutely amazing.

Having seen the local impact my writing could have on important issues like expanding our education budget and bringing trauma awareness to our schools, I joined the May 1 Communications team to help prepare for the rally.  My goal was to bring the struggles educators and our public school families face into the public view and push back against the lies coming out of the General Assembly. 

I laid out our five Day of Action demands for EdNC and the Washington Post and drew the attention of the most powerful politician in North Carolina, Senator Phil Berger, as you can see below:

For the past few months I’ve been using my website Notes from the Chalkboard to report on the Istation controversy and make sure folks are aware of Superintendent Mark Johnson’s shady dealings in awarding Istation a multimillion dollar contract against the advice of actual educators.  Recently, I broke the related story of the Department of Public Instruction’s alleged spying on a retired director’s personal text messages, and I’m organizing pressure on DPI to release relevant information so the people responsible for this unethical behavior can be held accountable.

My work on Istation earned me legal threats in the form of a Cease and Desist notice from the corporation’s attorneys which is now displayed proudly with my other certificates, diplomas and awards, a reminder to be fearless and committed.  

This school year I’ve committed to getting more involved with my local, attending CMAE meetings and serving on CMAE’s Government Relations Committee, helping conduct interviews with candidates for office to determine endorsements.  

It’s important for me to acknowledge that, even though I am not new to organizing or education advocacy, I am still relatively new to NCAE.  My biggest area for growth is in continuing to build relationships in all of Region 3 (a region including Anson, Cabarrus, Gaston, Kannapolis, Lincoln, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Mooresville City, Rowan, Stanly, and Union Counties).  I am deeply committed to doing just that.  

On the other hand, I will bring a fresh perspective and new energy to the work.  I believe that the key to educators in Region 3 being effectively organized comes down to detailed policy knowledge paired with strong and consistent communication.  As Region 3 Director, I will keep close tabs on policy issues that impact all of our member counties (not just Mecklenburg County) and provide regular updates for members on specific opportunities to win improvements for our public schools at both the local and state levels

Together we will build all of Region 3 into a force to be reckoned with.

Things are slowly improving in North Carolina, but there is so much left to do, and 2020 is going to be a really critical year.  

Please consider giving me the opportunity to serve our organization as Director for Region 3 and encouraging others to do the same.

If you’d like to help me get a few campaign materials together, I’ve set up a GoFundMe page here:

Justin Parmenter NCAE Region 3 GoFundMe

Thank you,

Justin Parmenter
Charlotte, NC

NC Superintendent Mark Johnson mocks improper surveillance accusations with references to ninjas and “DPI Spy Squad”

In a Friday morning radio interview, State Superintendent Mark Johnson mocked allegations that someone at the Department of Public Instruction improperly monitored the personal text messages of former K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie.

A screenshot of a text message sent by Guthrie is at the center of a months-long controversy over North Carolina’s K-3 reading assessment. The allegations hold that Guthrie neglected to unsync text message forwarding on her DPI-issued Apple laptop when she retired in September 2017 and that someone at DPI intercepted a text message she sent in January 2019. That text message was used by Johnson as grounds for cancelling a multimillion-dollar procurement process.


In the interview, Johnson mockingly referred to “my elite squad of ninjas” and “my DPI Spy Team” before claiming the accusations were nothing more than “the media and the bureaucracy just trying to throw anything they can at me and hoping it sticks.”

Dozens of people have filed public records requests this week for electronic device inventory logs which could help clarify who had Guthrie’s laptop after she retired.

You can hear Johnson’s comments below: