Former PEPSC chair, Human Capital Roundtable member: Principal evaluations too subjective for use with performance pay

If you don’t live in a North Carolina cave, you’re likely aware of the controversial Pathways to Excellence merit pay scheme.

This proposal would make North Carolina the first state in the country to end the experience-based teacher salary schedule and move all teachers to a system of merit pay–and it’s getting closer to becoming a reality.

For some teachers, the opportunity for raises and career advancement would depend on students’ performance on standardized tests. But for the 60% of teachers who don’t have end of year tests tied to their subject, their “merit” would be measured in part by how their principal rates them on the North Carolina Educator Effectiveness System (NCEES).

Dr. Patrick Miller–recently retired Superintendent of Greene County Schools–is very familiar with the Pathways to Excellence proposal.

Miller was the first chair of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) which is preparing to vote on the scheme and also a member of the shadowy Human Capital Roundtable that originally created it.

Dr. Miller earned his PhD from East Carolina University. His 2011 dissertation examined a 2007-2010 performance pay pilot program called The Collaborative Project which offered educators in five rural NC counties (including Greene) financial incentives based on their performances.

The dissertation arrives at a number of findings, but it was Dr. Miller’s conclusions on using principal evaluations for determining pay that stood out most to me.

Miller noted that the principal evaluation ratings were highly subjective and could be inflated for a variety of reasons, including impact on teacher morale and the desire to put more money in teachers’ pockets. He suggested evaluations should either be changed or eliminated entirely from performance incentive criteria.

🗣️ Miller’s argument is the same argument teachers have been making against the Pathways to Excellence performance measures since last spring. 🗣️

The hypocrisy is mind boggling.

The PEPSC Commission will meet on November 10 to consider approving the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal and sending it on to the State Board of Education for consideration.

Dr. Miller’s term as PEPSC Chair ended September 1, and the commission is now led by UNCW’s Dr. Van Dempsey.

You can find contact information for PEPSC Commission and State Board of Education decision makers here:

Hijacking teacher licensure: Documents reveal early plan to insert merit pay reform into PEPSC’s work despite lobbying concerns

A newly obtained Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) document provides an early glimpse of the Human Capital Roundtable’s secret effort to move all North Carolina teachers from an experience-based pay scale to merit pay.

According to the May 31, 2019 draft Roundtable Action Plan document, which is marked “Internal Only” and “Please Do Not Distribute,” the number one goal of the Roundtable was to “Create a Performance-Based Educator Licensure System.”

The Department of Public Instruction’s Dr. Tom Tomberlin would be “manager” of the project and would “coordinate and execute the Roundtable’s plan to redesign North Carolina’s teacher licensure requirements and processes.” 

Tomberlin’s responsibilities included drafting a preliminary proposal, gathering feedback from “state leaders and affected stakeholders” and then “finalizing the plan for PEPSC review.”

Dr. Tomberlin is DPI’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support.  He is a member of the Human Capital Roundtable, but he most definitely does NOT serve on the PEPSC Commission. 

Dr. Patrick Miller, who was likely added to the Human Capital Roundtable because he chaired PEPSC and could provide the Roundtable with access to the commission, was designated a “helper” for Tomberlin. 

According to the Roundtable Action Plan, Dr. Miller’s role was to “serve as the key shepherd of the redesign plan through the Commission and State Board of Education.”

The newly unearthed document flies in the face of the Human Capital Roundtable’s public narrative that its members are “simply following PEPSC’s work and support its foundational ideals.”

That was the disingenuous external messaging suggested by marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan when teacher backlash against the deeply unpopular merit pay scheme began this past spring.

It’s important to understand that the Human Capital Roundtable, whose origins are murky at best, did not have any legal authority to recommend changes to licensure or teacher preparation in North Carolina.

PEPSC, on the other hand, was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017 to study and make recommendations on licensure. 

The Roundtable Action Plan makes it clear that, from the very beginning, the Human Capital Roundtable intended to hijack PEPSC’s legislative mandate and get the commission to take up its proposal to scrap the experience-based pay scale which North Carolina and all the other 49 states use and replace it with a highly experimental merit pay model.

The Roundtable Action Plan was prepared and circulated by SREB among Human Capital Roundtable members for feedback.

At least one of them was a little queasy about it.

Tom West is a member of the Human Capital Roundtable who, in his day job, serves as VP for Government Relations and General Counsel for North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU). 

In response to the draft action plan, West cautioned that much of what was proposed in the document might qualify as lobbying–which would legally require the Roundtable to register as a “lobbyist principal” under General Statute 120C:


The PEPSC Commission is scheduled to meet on November 10 and is expected to hold a vote on whether to approve the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay proposal and send it on to the State Board of Education for consideration.

Contact information for PEPSC Commission members and State Board of Education members is here:

You can view the Roundtable Action Plan in its entirety below:


3 reasons Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Charlotte Meck Board of Education

With the 2022 general election just weeks away, campaign season is in full swing.  Just like clockwork we are seeing some politicians trying to rebrand themselves in order to win.

One of the individuals working hardest to whitewash his public image is Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools District 6 school board member Sean Strain.

Since his election to the school board in 2017, Strain has regularly found himself in the middle of controversy thanks in large part to his frequently unpopular views on public education in our community coupled with his disrespectful treatment of others.

Strain is now attempting to portray himself as a thoughtful, nonpartisan leader who just wants to unite people:

For casual followers of CMS and local politics, this chameleon act might be convincing.  But for those who have paid close attention to Strain’s 5 years on the board it’s completely absurd.

What follows is a stack of primary source documents laying out in detail why Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education.

1: Hostile relationships with colleagues:

From the very beginning of his time on the board, Strain’s inability to cultivate courteous, respectful relationships with colleagues has been clear.

In 2018 Strain was upset about CMS issuing a press release without his consent.  Referring to then-board chair Mary McCray, one of Strain’s Facebook friends wrote “Me thinks that you should buy a muzzle for Mary McCray” on his Facebook page. 

Not only did Strain fail to condemn his friend’s use of animal imagery to describe the African American female chair of the Board of Education, he participated in the banter, adding “Me thinks that Ms Mary has some splainin’ to do.”

In January 2021 the CMS Board of Education met to consider Superintendent Earnest Winston’s recommendation that remote learning be extended for CMS students.  The recommendation came two days after Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris advised schools to remain virtual due to the community’s “exponential growth” in COVID hospitalizations and deaths. 

During the meeting, Strain launched into a demeaning, badgering line of questioning of Superintendent Winston (begins at 16:47 here) which reached its lowest point with Strain talking about Winston kissing Harris’s ring and saying “Yes ma’am, Gibbie.”  It was appalling to hear a white man to portray the African American leader of our school district in this subservient manner before a white woman.

Finally, in contrast with his gentle “non-partisan leadership” makeover, the below November, 2021 email (obtained via public records request) shows Strain bashing his colleagues on the board as “partisan hacks” with “little to no interest in the plight they have served upon our county’s youth” and repeatedly referring to the importance of voting for “conservative values.”


2.  Problematic views on racial equity:

There have been numerous examples of BOE member Sean Strain’s problematic views on race and racial equity throughout his first term on the board. 

According to this 2018 op-ed by Justin Perry, in a 2018 policy committee meeting Strain proposed delaying discussion of an equity committee for more than a year and used the “All Lives Matter”-like phrase “equity for all” in his proposal:

“Strain’s proposal discussed ‘equity for all students’ and initially called for delaying any discussion of an equity committee until December 2019, when a new school board will be elected.”

“Equity for all” been a common Sean Strain slogan during his time on the board:

The problem with championing “equity for all” is that it takes the focus away from those who have been denied equity (CMS’s students and families of color in this context).  And recognizing that absence of equity is the first step in addressing it.

In a September, 2022 Student Outcomes Focused Governance document, Strain mentioned his concern that by focusing too much on Black and Hispanic students we might abandon other subgroups:

Strain’s social media activity also demonstrates his opinion that structural racism isn’t real, and that our schools are hotbeds of activism. 

This post from the fringe right wing Moms for Liberty Mecklenburg Facebook group shows Strain feels the deaths of Trayvon Martin and George Floyd had nothing to do with systemic racism:

It also appears to show Strain’s view that Social Emotional Learning (SEL), the part of the school day where students learn how to interact with each other in positive, healthy ways and develop the skills they need to be successful in school and beyond, is just a way of sneaking Critical Race Theory past the public.

3.  Opposition to free expression/educator voice

In the year or so before Sean Strain was elected I had been working with board members and CMS staff to advocate for a statement in support of district employees’ rights to speak out about matters of workplace concern. 

The statement that was eventually developed read, in part “The Board welcomes employee input and celebrates every CMS employee’s right to respectfully share their views and ideas. The Board will act to ensure that employees feel free to express their views without fear of retribution.”

Shortly after Strain was elected I reached out to him to congratulate him and give him a heads up about the statement which would eventually be read from the dais in February 2018.  This was our exchange:

Strain’s response was cordial enough, but what stood out most to me was his remark that CMS needed “guidelines for how to most effectively, and appropriately, speak out.”  To me that indicated he felt there needed to be external controls over how educators express their personal views.

In the years since he took his seat on the board I have experienced Strain’s disdain for educators’ free expression on multiple occasions, much of it after the COVID-19 pandemic started.

From the very beginning of the pandemic I have been an outspoken advocate for prioritizing student and staff health and safety.  In the summer of 2020 I published a blog post which quoted the CDC Director’s guidelines for determining whether schools should move to virtual learning.  The post was written outside work hours (during summer break) and posted on my personal website.

Shortly afterwards, Strain sent this email to Superintendent Earnest Winston and Deputy Superintendent Matthew Hayes:

Board Chair Elyse Dashew’s excellent reply to Strain’s effort to get the superintendent to silence me noted “several occasions” where Strain had previously “attempted to apply pressure to censor [my] writing.”

Around that same time, Strain was using his CMS email to convince parents that I was personally responsible for school buildings remaining closed.

This vibe continued throughout the fall and winter of school year 2020-21, culminating with social media calls for me to be followed in public and a man showing up with a bullhorn and sign outside my house and frightening my wife and young child while I wasn’t home.

Our community deserves to have a school board that has healthy, respectful working relationships among elected members and with executive school district staff.  Racial equity has to be valued by each board member as they are representing families in a very diverse district.  And we also need board members who respect the first-hand insight professional educators bring to conversations about public education in Mecklenburg County.  

For those reasons and more, Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Board of Education.

Summer Nunn is running to replace Mr. Strain in District 6 and has earned the endorsement of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators.  You can read Summer’s Charlotte Observer candidate profile here and find more information about her campaign on her website here.

Early voting begins Thursday, October 20, and runs through November 5. You can find a list of early voting locations in Mecklenburg County below:

Here’s a new advance screening of the disingenuous advertising campaign being planned for NC teacher merit pay

Here’s your advanced screening of the sequel of Maureen Stover’s Pathways to Excellence testimonial video (I shared version 1.0 earlier this month). 

The video is part of an advertising series that now-infamous marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan is putting together to try to sell merit pay for North Carolina teachers. 

Stover serves as co-chair for the PEPSC Advancement and Development subcommittee and has also agreed to sit on the Board of Directors of Eckel and Vaughan’s UpliftEd Coalition, a group which is being formed to drum up support for the controversial plan.

In the first part of her video, Mrs. Stover talks about the importance of shifting from valuing “inputs” (certificates/credentials) to “outputs” in order to gauge teacher effectiveness.  This represents a shift from her first video when Stover complained about not getting paid for her two master’s degrees when she moved to North Carolina. However, it is in line with comments she has made in PEPSC subcommittee meetings:

Screenshot of Southern Regional Education Board notes on PEPSC subcommittee meeting.
More info here.

The latter portion of Stover’s testimonial is essentially the same song from version 1.0. 

Stover mentions how important it is to her to stay in the classroom because she is in it for the kids, saying the only current way to grow as a teacher is to become an administrator.  She says it would be “incredible” if teachers had opportunities to grow by mentoring other teachers and says she is “extremely excited” that North Carolina is now looking for ways to make that happen.

If you work in schools you probably know that mentoring is already a thing.  What we don’t have is time or money to do it well.  That’s not a problem requiring merit pay to fix.

Of course, Eckel and Vaughan’s advertising campaign isn’t going to be about the truth.  It’s going to be about finding messaging that will aid in getting a system of merit pay passed into state law.

This is not it.


You can view the video and a transcript below:

My name is Maureen Stover, and I am the 2020 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

One of the things that is a challenge for teachers coming into North Carolina is that we don’t always do a good job of effectively identifying skills that teachers have that they are bringing to their classrooms from outside of the education world.  

So instead of looking just at inputs, something like a certificate or a credential that’s been earned, it’s important we’re also looking at the outputs to see how teachers are using that information that they have learned through those different courses to effectively teach their kids.  

There are many different opportunities for us to fully support our teachers and to have programs that will make teachers more impactful for their students in their classrooms.

Under the current North Carolina licensure system, the only real opportunity for me to grow and develop as part of my teaching practice would be to go into administration.  But as a classroom teacher, I am in the room for the kids.  And so I really want to remain a classroom teacher so that I can help them develop in their social-emotional learning and their academic learning needs.

When we have teachers who are excited to be in their classrooms, excited to be with their students, and excited to deliver instruction, it means that we have teachers who are going to impact their students in a positive way.  

One thing that would be incredible would be to give teachers the opportunity to lead not only in their classrooms but also among their peers by providing mentorship to other teachers that are also working in their schools.  And I am extremely excited that we are looking for ways to begin developing teachers and providing advancement opportunities for teachers who want to stay in the classroom and continue teaching their students and doing the best things that we need to do for all 1.5 million kids that are enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools.

 Long time Cabarrus County educator sues Board of Education over failure to turn over members’ text messages

An educator who spent more than 20 years teaching in Cabarrus County Schools before retiring due to her dissatisfaction with what she deems “North Carolina’s continued degradation of public schools” has filed a lawsuit in Cabarrus County Superior Court seeking “disclosure of public documents…along with the attorney’s fees recoverable under the Public Records Act.”

The complaint alleges the school district failed to turn over records related to school board business upon request, including board member text messages.

Kim Biondi began her teaching career in Cabarrus County in 1999.  She served as department chair and head of various school committees and was a finalist for Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year.  Biondi was also an active advocate for change in public education, including speaking up about pandemic safety measures. 

Biondi and others were vocal about the need for virtual learning and masking during the most dangerous points of the COVID pandemic.  They expressed their views in a variety of ways, including standing on public sidewalks holding signs outside Cabarrus Board of Education meetings.

Beginning in early 2021, Biondi and other outspoken educators were targeted by members of a social media group called Make A Difference headed by a Cabarrus resident named Kenneth Wortman.  Wortman started a petition calling for the removal of dozens of teachers as well as that of Superintendent Chris Lowder.

The petition reads, in part, “The teachers continuously break county policy by demonstrating, protesting, and trying to force their views to make a change. This happens in front of the board, and the superintendent allows it to continue.” 

Superintendent Lowder, an extremely popular and successful leader who had devoted thirty years to the district, abruptly announced his retirement in February 2021.

In addition to launching the petition, Wortman filed hundreds of grievances against Cabarrus County Schools teachers and staff alleging bullying and indoctrination. The grievances resulted in judicial hearings conducted by the Cabarrus Board of Education. Wortman was represented in the hearings by attorney Jonathan Vogel. In all cases, teachers who were targets of grievances kept their jobs.

Weeks after the grievance hearings were held, Cabarrus Board of Education terminated its attorney (Brian Shaw of Raleigh-based Schwartz and Shaw) and hired Jonathan Vogel as its new legal counsel. Wortman is on the November ballot for Cabarrus County Commission.

In the wake of the superintendent’s resignation and the dismissal of the board’s general counsel, the Cabarrus Board of Education eliminated the role of Board Clerk, a position which for years had been responsible for documentation and record keeping.

In January 2022, controversy erupted among Cabarrus educators after the district’s executive staff and principals received 6% raises while teachers were given just a 2% salary supplement increase. Shortly afterward, Cabarrus County Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kluttz suddenly resigned after more than twenty years with the district.

Kim Biondi was interested in learning more about how these controversial and highly impactful staffing changes had taken place. She had observed board members frequently on their cell phones during Cabarrus Board of Education meetings and suspected they were using text messages to communicate about official school business.

On February 4, 2022, the Cabarrus County Board of Education held an emergency meeting. Although the meeting was closed to the public, details about a confidential matter the board had dealt with during the meeting were soon being discussed by members of the “Make a Difference” social media group.

The next day Biondi filed a request for text exchanges between board members and text message communications between board members, their attorneys, and members of the public for the 10 days surrounding that closed board meeting.

In response to the request, then-Cabarrus County Schools Director of Communications and Public Information Ronnye Boone informed Biondi that “the district does not have access to board members’ personal cell phones.”

North Carolina public records law covers documents “regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if Cabarrus County Board of Education members were using personal cell phones, smoke signals or freaking carrier pigeons.  If they were communicating about school board business, the law is clear that those records must be furnished upon request.

Biondi also requested text messages involving the board clerk whose position had been eliminated.  She was informed that the clerk’s district cell phone had been “recycled,” so none of the data on it phone was available.

In June 2022 Biondi contacted Cabarrus County Schools leaders to urge compliance with her lawful information requests, giving them until August 1 to provide the documents “to avoid further legal action.”

On July 18, 2022, Biondi received a letter from Cabarrus’s Board attorney informing her that the district had decided to report her to the Department of Public instruction for the grievance that had been filed against her more than a year prior, despite the fact that she was no longer employed by CCS and no longer even had an active teaching license with the state.  Biondi perceived this move as retaliation for her dogged pursuit of public records. 

Biondi’s attorney filed a writ of mandamus in Cabarrus County Superior Court on September 16, 2022.  The complaint asks the court to compel Cabarrus Board of Education to produce the records Biondi requested, refrain from further destruction of public records, and pay for the legal fees she incurred in pursuing the records.

You can read Kim Biondi’s complaint and all supporting evidence below:


Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education member Sean Strain warned for “multiple infractions” of Board policy

In an April 2022 email obtained via public records request, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education Chair and Vice Chair warned District 6 representative Sean Strain over “multiple infractions” of Board policy, adding that further infractions could lead to “possible removal by the Board chair from any leadership or committee positions, and/or public reprimand/censure as a means of separating the Board’s focus and intent from those of the offending member.”

The infractions noted in the email include giving directives to CMS staff and sending confidential personnel information to the media.

You can read the email below:


Strain’s reply to the warning is classic Sean Strain: brash, sarcastic and unapologetic: