Strings attached? Superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt’s campaign donations point to for-profit charter schools and EVAAS

If you want to know what a political candidate will stand for, just look at where their support is coming from.

State superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt was happy to accept some recent high profile support from President Donald Trump in the form of a shout out at his campaign rally in Greenville:

But while rubbing elbows with a serial misogynist and pathological liar isn’t a great look for someone who wants to lead K-12 schools, it’s Truitt’s campaign donations that might give some crucial insight into what her priorities will be for North Carolina if she wins.

Interestingly, 25% of Truitt’s donations have come from out of state, while 98% of her opponent Jen Mangrum’s donations are from North Carolinians.

Truitt’s top four donors (after herself) are here:

All of them have donated the maximum allowed under law, and their donations comprise just under half of her total campaign haul.

James Goodnight is the richest person in North Carolina and CEO of SAS, the company that produces EVAAS. For the uninitiated, EVAAS is a software system which uses standardized test scores to measure “teacher effectiveness.”

SAS has a contract with North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to provide that data which state legislators have used for the controversial school report cards and to offer cash bonuses to teachers in exchange for high test scores.

EVAAS is deeply unpopular among many North Carolina teachers who believe it’s ludicrous to focus solely on standardized test scores to measure the ways a teacher adds value to a student’s learning.

Ann Goodnight is James’s wife and director of Community Relations for SAS. She serves on the board of Best NC, a pro-business education reform organization which successfully lobbied for North Carolina’s current principal pay plan.

That pay plan–which uses EVAAS data to determine compensation–was so poorly conceived that the legislature had to pass a hold harmless clause to prevent a massive exodus of North Carolina principals as salaries could have dropped up to $20,000.

Goodnight also serves on the board of Cary Academy, a private school she founded with her husband which charges tuition of more than $25,000.

Jonathan Hage is founder and CEO of Florida-based Charter Schools USA, a for-profit “education management organization” with annual revenue of $750 million.

Charter Schools USA currently operates 7 charter schools in North Carolina, and it’s safe to assume Hage would like that number to go up.

Sherry Hage is married to Jonathan Hage and, until recently, served as Chief Academic Officer for Charter Schools USA. She is now CEO of Noble Education Initiative, a charter school management company which is headquartered right down the street from Charter Schools USA in Ft. Lauderdale.

Catherine Truitt’s principal donors are individuals who embrace the philosophy that education is a commodity that can be bought and sold. Those twisted values have filled their bank accounts with riches that most of us can’t even imagine, and they apparently see Truitt as their pathway to even larger piles of money.

Truitt’s opponent, Jennifer Mangrum, is a longtime elementary school teacher and current professor of education at UNC-Greensboro. Mangrum believes that education is a human right, not a commodity. She believes in strong traditional public schools and will not be bought by charter school magnates or software billionaires.

Those are the values we need leading North Carolina’s K-12 public schools.

“They’re not advocating for students.” Republican candidate for superintendent bashes NCAE

In a recent endorsement interview with the Observer’s Editorial Board, Republican candidate for state superintendent Catherine Truitt did not hold back on her disdain for North Carolina’s largest professional organization for educators.

During her unsuccessful bid for the Observer’s endorsement, Truitt falsely accused NCAE of excluding her from its own endorsement process and said “They’re not advocating for students.”

Truitt’s entire interview video is posted below, as is a transcript of her thoughts on NCAE. Those comments begin at the 16:19 mark.

Ned Barnett (Associate Editor): The favorite target of legislative Republicans is the North Carolina Association of Educators, who they sort of demonize as this union, and they sort of pass up no opportunity to go after.  Is it a healthy thing really to have an arrangement where this is a group that represents teachers and educators in the state, and just make them the enemy and have it be at loggerheads like that?  Or can you do anything to sort of ask them to talk with NCAE?

Catherine Truitt: I’m gonna have to disagree with the premise of your question there, respectfully.  So, I’ve had countless teachers reach out to me and say “This is not the same NCAE that I worked with 10, 15 years ago.”  This NCAE has been very vocal with the N & O in an interview last year that their plan is to move the organization towards union status, which is illegal in North Carolina.  Their Executive Director, who is not an educator, is an attorney from Ohio who was brought here to bring about collective bargaining which, again, is illegal in North Carolina.*  I don’t believe that… I think that the NCAE plays a valuable role for some teachers, providing fellowship and support their members.  We don’t even know what their real membership is because they’re not honest about their numbers with Auditor Wood.  And this group has an agenda which is not necessarily student centered.  Their agenda comes from Washington D.C.  It is a political agenda that represents one side of the aisle over another.  And I’m not denying that Republicans go after the NCAE, but it is certainly two-sided.  

I was not offered an interview with the NCAE for their endorsement. 

Ned Barnett: Did you request one?

Catherine Truitt: I should not have to.  I reached out to them to let them know that I have not re-… requested…  The candidate doesn’t request an interview.  I wasn’t even aware of how this process worked, because I’m a new candidate.  And so, when I did reach out to the NCAE and asked for them to prove that they had offered me this opportunity, they could not do so.  They claimed they had sent things to me in email.  And they could not produce an email that was sent to me to set up an appointment to receive an interview.  

Ned Barnett: So I take it that your answer is yes, that the contentious relationship would continue between the superintendent and the association of educators.

Catherine Truitt: What I would say is that I will always, as I did when I was Governor McCrory’s education advisor, I never turned down a meeting.  I am always willing to meet with the NCAE, and I would love for them to be in the room and have a role.  It’s up to them if they want to advocate for students.  They’re not advocating for students right now. 

Truitt’s unoriginal line about NCAE being a political front organization and not advocating for children is a tired, defensive talking point often parroted by state lawmakers who don’t like being criticized for a decade of terrible education policy.

But what’s this about being excluded from NCAE’s endorsement process?

Truitt first made this claim in a telephone call I had with her last spring at her request. During that lengthy conversation, Truitt told me NCAE was a partisan organization and, as evidence, said she hadn’t been given an opportunity to participate in an endorsement interview, insinuating that the organization would only consider endorsing Democratic candidates.

I told her I’d check into that for her, and as soon as we hung up the phone I contacted the folks at NCAE who handle endorsements.

Marge Foreman, NCAE’s Government Relations specialist, explained to me that contact information for candidates is taken from their official filing on the Board of Elections website and contact is made by email only if an email address is available. Candidate questionnaires are sent to every candidate for statewide office by snail mail, regardless of party affiliation.

Foreman said the next step is for candidates to respond to the questionnaire to indicate their interest in participating. For those who choose not to respond, that’s the end of the process.

Foreman was able to provide me with a screenshot of the actual mailing label that had been used to send Truitt’s questionnaire to the PO Box on her candidate filing:

Truitt was absolutely sent an NCAE candidate questionnaire but never filled out and returned it.

I immediately reached out to Catherine Truitt to try to clear up her confusion:

Truitt never responded to my email.

It’s disappointing that, as a candidate for statewide office, Catherine Truitt is continuing to peddle this false narrative in support of her claims that NCAE is a partisan organization, especially after I took the time to investigate and clarify a process that she herself admits she didn’t understand.

Apparently the truth didn’t fit Truitt’s narrative.

As for the Observer’s endorsement process, the Editorial Board just announced its support of Truitt’s opponent, Democrat Jennifer Mangrum. The Observer was uncomfortable with how Truitt aligned herself with Republican lawmakers on core issues and noted that Mangrum “separates herself from Truitt with her strong advocacy for public schools and teachers.”

*note: NCAE’s Executive Director is John Wilson, who was born in Burlington, NC and received education degrees from Western Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill. He was a long time Exceptional Children teacher.

Cabarrus educators holding Monday “Rally to End the Word” in wake of offensive comments by school board member

During last Monday’s board meeting, Cabarrus County Board of Education member Laura Blackwell was caught on Zoom saying “This is the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen.

The comment was made privately to Board Chair Rob Walter, who ignored the use of an appalling term educators have spent decades trying to remove from the educational setting and instead agreed with Blackwell’s criticism of remote instruction during the pandemic.

Blackwell also referred to the board’s vice chair as a “douchebag.”

The board has called a special meeting for today beginning at 5 pm (closed session at 5, open session at 6).

The meeting’s agenda includes a discussion about “appropriate and inappropriate board member speech” and has the Code of Ethics for School Board Members attached:


The policy requires that board members “model civility to students, employees and all elements of the community by encouraging the free expression of opinion by all board members and engaging in respectful dialogue with fellow board members on matters being considered by the board.”

At 4 pm, the Cabarrus Association of Educators is holding a “Rally to End the Word” outside the Cabarrus County Education Center (4401 Old Airport Rd. Concord, NC 28026). Overflow parking will be available at the nearby Cabarrus Arena.

Cabarrus Association of Educators has released the following statement about the matter:

Educators have learned to conduct themselves as professionals, even outside of the classroom, knowing that the eyes of the community are always upon them.   We have the right to expect a similar high standard from our elected officials especially during a professional meeting.  

The lack of decorum demonstrated at several board meetings and the inappropriate language used shows an utter disregard for the position held, the opinions of others and the community represented.  Trust has been broken between the community and the board of education.  Serious steps need to be taken in order to restore that trust.  

Michelle Rengert
President – Cabarrus Association of Educators

Cabarrus school board member apologizes for using R word during meeting, credits her “immense passion for the welfare of our children”

Cabarrus County school board member Laura Blackwell is facing mounting criticism for her use of the R word during Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education:

Blackwell posted an apology for the comment, which she made about the district’s reopening plans to board chair Rob Walter when she didn’t realize the Zoom meeting was still being broadcast to listeners.

In her apology, Blackwell attributed her use of the degrading term to her “immense passion for the welfare of our children and for serving this community,” then quickly pivoted to victim mode:

I want to take this opportunity to address the very unfortunate incident that took place at last night’s school board meeting. During one of the breaks, my microphone remained on and comments that were made in private suddenly became very public. Whether in private or public, I acknowledge my comments were insensitive and inappropriate. I allowed my immense passion for the welfare of our children and for serving this community to manifest itself through emotion and frustration. Although I never intended to offend anyone, I do realize that my words had the potential to cause pain and reinforce a negative stereotype. I deeply regret my choice of words and I sincerely apologize to anyone that I may have offended.

The last 12 hours have been some of the most difficult of my life. I have received messages that have both questioned my integrity and my character. However, not to be overshadowed by hatred and political posturing, there has been an overwhelming amount of loving support from so many of you that know my heart and believe in the work that we are trying to accomplish together. Because of each of you, tomorrow morning I will dust myself off and get right back to serving this community, our students, our amazing faculty and staff members and this county with the same level of passion as I had on day one.

In response to Blackwell’s offensive speech, the Special Olympics of Cabarrus County released a statement that noted the harm caused by stereotyping people with developmental and intellectual disabilities:

Many listeners have noted that Chair Rob Walter agreed with the essence of Blackwell’s comments and did not offer any pushback whatsoever on her use of a word that educators have worked hard to erase from educational settings.

Walter, who is currently running for reelection, has said the board will review the incident and related policies and will deal with the matter at the next school board meeting if any further action is required.

That meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 5.

Wake County public school administrators oppose fall return to in-person instruction

In a September 21 letter sent to Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore and her core team, the Wake County Division of Principals and Assistant Principals expressed serious reservations about the feasibility of returning to in-person instruction on October 26.

A whopping 90.9% of administrators surveyed preferred a second semester return.

Even those who indicated they felt a late October return could be accomplished felt that additional supports needed to be put in place before it happened.

Those advocating for a delay until the end of the first semester felt the additional time would allow for COVID numbers to further decrease and for schools to better adapt instruction to a challenging hybrid model.

Below are some comments from the survey.

The entire letter is posted at the end of this article.

Teachers, students, and families need stability. For high schools, it is extremely challenging for teachers to re-design their curriculum multiple times to adjust from a brick and mortar to an online setting. If we transition again in the middle of a semester, teachers will need to navigate their curriculum again and figure out how to teach in both worlds (VA and in-person setting). I am highly concerned that this change will push them over the edge. Please allow high schools to remain online for the Fall semester.

I am very worried about what to do when we need a sub and do not have a sub. Have you collected data on how many staff members at each school have quarantine themselves because of an exposure? I lost count. Child care is also a big issue with our staff.


I believe returning in January would give Fall VA families and potentially full-time VA families an opportunity to return to F2F with confidence. It also provides a smoother transition for staffing, as I need the Fall VA teachers to be in whatever F2F rotation or full return we have. I simply cannot staff any form of F2F without the return of Fall VA teachers to a F2F model. Teacher assignment changes will definitely occur if we return prior to January, and we really don’t have the allotments needed to do this sooner. Stability for families should be considered as important as Safety.

I imagine YR schools would also fare better because returning to assigned tracks is more feasible at the end of first semester.


I think that returning to school during the month of October is too soon. I don’t believe that we will have enough time to properly prepare for our students to return. We have not received specific guidelines on what school will look like and what the safety measures truly consist of. Teachers will have to replan and adjust many lessons in order for them to provide instruction in person as well as online. I am also very concerned that transportation services needs will not be at the forefront. I can foresee many delays and lots of confusion. There are always hiccups and the beginning of the school year and due to the circumstances and student cohorts, I worry about safety and efficiency.


I think that the biggest issues are going to be transportation and substitutes. I do not believe that social distancing is going to be possible on buses. Also, when teachers get Covid (which they will- either from school or from the community) what are we going to do about substitutes?) We have a teacher out right now with Covid- but she can teach from her house because of remote learning- that won’t be possible if students are in school unless there is additional supervision.


Cabarrus County Board of Education member caught on Zoom making derogatory comments at board meeting

They say Zoom mute button fails are the new accidental “reply all.” That would certainly seem to be the case for Cabarrus County Board of Education member Laura Blackwell, who was overheard by Monday night’s board meeting listeners using incredibly inappropriate language.

As the meeting went to recess, Blackwell referred to the board’s Vice Chair Barry Shoemaker as a “douchebag,” in a comment at :24 of this clip:

A few minutes later, as the meeting got ready to resume, Blackwell said to Chairman Rob Walter “This is the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen” in an apparent reference to the district’s current remote learning practices.

Walter appeared to agree with the essence of Blackwell’s comments and said nothing to push back on her use of the term “retarded”:

Both Blackwell and Walter need to understand that the word “retarded” is one that is deeply offensive to many, but perhaps most of all to professional educators who believe that all of our children can learn and work tirelessly to make that happen.

Federal use of the term ended more than a decade ago after the passage of Rosa’s Law, named for 9 year old Rosa Marcellino. Rosa suffers from Down Syndrome and, along with her family, was able to get legal references to “mental retardation” changed to “intellectual disability” in an effort to extend dignity to those who struggle with disabilities.

The Cabarrus County Board of Education voted 4-3 to send grade K-3 students back to school next month. Grades 4-12 will begin in-person classes at the same time under Plan B.

Charlotte-Meck Red4Ed teachers launch “Virtually Unstoppable” shirts to fund internet access for students who aren’t connected

A group of Charlotte Mecklenburg education advocates has launched an effort to help raise funds for students who lack access to the high speed internet which has become so essential to K-12 education during the COVID19 pandemic.

The screen printing project celebrates the creativity and resilience of North Carolina’s educators and students who have transitioned to online learning through T-shirts that deem them “Virtually Unstoppable.”

According to the CMS Foundation, more than 16,000 households with CMS students don’t have access to the internet. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has committed $1 million to providing hotspots for those families. The Foundation has set a goal of raising $3.2 million to ensure 12 months of internet service for anyone receiving a hotspot.

In a nod to a year like no other, Virtually Unstoppable shirts are available for $20.20, with 100% of proceeds (roughly 75% of the cost) going to the CMS Foundation’s effort.

You can buy your Virtually Unstoppable shirt on Etsy at the listing below.

Orders over $35 will receive free shipping. (keep scrolling for local pickup option)

NC teachers working to bridge the digital divide by Ink4EdEquity

You searched for: Ink4EdEquity! Discover the unique items that Ink4EdEquity creates. At Etsy, we pride ourselves on our global community of sellers. Each Etsy seller helps contribute to a global marketplace of creative goods. By supporting Ink4EdEquity, you’re supporting a small business, and, in turn, Etsy!

*If you’re in Charlotte and prefer to avoid shipping charges, you can place an order at this link and arrange for local pickup:

Virtually Unstoppable shirt Local Pickup Order (Charlotte only)

CMS Board requests state flexibility to limit remote learning screen time

In an August 27 letter to state legislators, the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board requested flexibility on remote learning instructional requirements which have seen young children spend many hours each day sitting in front of computer screens.

With COVID still spreading at dangerously high rates and insufficient resources to guarantee safe in-person learning, CMS has started the 2020-21 school year under Plan C, which means all students are learning from home.

The struggle to balance staff and student health and safety with learning needs and legal requirements during a pandemic has been a challenge to say the least.

Two weeks into the new school year, parents have complained that the amount of mandatory screen time is unhealthy and unsustainable, especially for elementary students.

With state legislators due back in Raleigh on September 2, yesterday CMS Board Chair Elyse Dashew and members of the board’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee sent a letter to General Assembly leadership requesting flexibility in the number of instructional hours required under state law.

The letter, addressed to Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, and chairs of education committees in both the NC House and Senate, asks the General Assembly to “provide LEAs with flexibility in providing six hours per day of instructional time so that screen time can be limited when needed.”

You can read the letter in its entirety below:


An open letter to Superintendent Mark Johnson on white supremacy

Dear Mark,

I have some thoughts about the email you emerged from hibernation to send educators in North Carolina today. You know, the one where you publicly called for the resignation of a Black member of the State Board of Education who has dedicated his life to dismantling white supremacy?


I just mailed you a copy of White Fragility, a book which I think will help you process the strong feelings you’re experiencing and to better understand what white supremacy is. 

I even sprang for the gift wrap.

Here’s a little preview for you: 

White supremacist doesn’t always refer to individuals who are hiding a pointy white hat in their closets or openly expressing hatred for people who don’t look like them.  White supremacy refers to a system of racial domination which enables white people like you and me to control politics, business, etc. 

When people do what you did today and equate the term “white supremacist” with radical racial hate, that mis-definition–intentionally or not–obscures systems of oppression that need to be brought to light and prevents them from being addressed. 

Please don’t use school email for obscuring systems of oppression.

Now if you’re thinking to yourself “What systems of oppression?” it’s important to acknowledge that people who haven’t been victims of such systems find it harder to see them. 

That doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The book says that naming white supremacy puts the full weight of responsibility for changing this dynamic on those who control the institutions.  At DPI that would currently be you, although I am delighted to say we will elect your replacement in 75 days, and you’ll be vaguely remembered as “that Istation guy” in the near future.

The person that takes over your job will lead a community of educators that is growing in our willingness to look at our history with the humility and honesty that you so clearly lack, to listen to others who have experienced things we have not, and to ask “What is my part and what can I do to make it better?”

Your book is scheduled to arrive on Monday.  I’m told that despite your public support for ‘in-person’ you’re working from home, so you’ll need to actually make a trip into the building to pick it up. 

Best wishes,

Justin Parmenter

Union County board policy used to silence educators could be unconstitutional

A Union County Public Schools policy used to restrict district employees’ personal use of social media may be violating First Amendment rights, according to the director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition.

At issue is policy 5-22, which lays out the Union County School Board’s expectations for how employees will conduct themselves when using social media:

The Board understands that employees may engage in the use of social media during their personal time. School employees who use social media for personal purposes must be mindful that they are responsible for their public conduct even when not acting in their capacities as school system employees. All school employees, including student teachers and independent contractors, shall comply with the requirements of this policy when using electronic social media for personal purposes. 

The policy states

Any postings, on professional or personal social media sites, of the following nature are prohibited: 

● Creates a harassing, demeaning, or hostile working environment for any employee.

● Disrupts the smooth and orderly flow of work, or the delivery of services to the staff or students.

● Harms the goodwill and reputation of staff, students or the community at large.

● Erodes the public’s confidence in the district.

● Involves any kind of criminal activity or harms the rights of others, may result in criminal prosecution or civil liability to those harmed, or both.

Over the past few years there have been numerous instances where Union County employees have been reprimanded by their principals or summoned to the district office and dealt with over supposed violations of this social media policy.

I talked with several Union County employees who have experienced such treatment, all of whom requested anonymity out of fear of retribution from the school district.  

Some of the employees have gotten in hot water for publicly questioning specific district policies around issues like having to pay for a sub who doesn’t show up, or for blowing the whistle on COVID-related matters.

One of them said, “UCPS effectively silenced me a couple of years ago when I was officially written up in my permanent employee file, sent downtown to meet with the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and his staff, and forced to sign a statement that I would not ever post anything on social media again that ‘erodes the public’s confidence in the district.’ The post in question was a three-word noninflammatory comment on a coworker’s post, agreeing that there was a lack of effective leadership.”

Another Union County employee spoke of being admonished for criticizing President Trump in a post that had no connection to Union County schools or education and informed that it was forbidden to criticize any elected official.

It’s unclear if the Sun Valley High School principal has faced any discipline for publicly criticizing Governor Cooper’s COVID decisions, or whether policy in the highly conservative county is applied differently depending on the employee’s political point of view.

All of the Union County employees I spoke with had been reprimanded for comments they made outside school hours on personal social media platforms.  In making those comments, none of them had been speaking in their official capacity as school employees or on behalf of the school district.

According to North Carolina Open Government Coalition Director Brooks Fuller, that’s a crucial distinction.

Dr. Fuller notes a 2006 Supreme Court decision on Garcetti v. Ceballos determined that public employees have limited rights when they’re speaking on behalf of their employer.  But when they’re speaking in their private capacity, they are protected by the First Amendment.
Fuller believes that prohibiting employee speech that “harms the goodwill and reputation of staff, students or the community at large” or “erodes the public’s confidence in the district” could potentially violate constitutional rights:

“The problems with these third and fourth bullet points is that, theoretically, if you take them to their logical conclusion, they would capture even truthful speech about matters of public concern that cause reputational harm or undermine people’s confidence in the school district.

“Let’s say, for instance, the leaders of the school district knew about risks revolving around COVID that they didn’t share or didn’t adequately protect their employees, and someone blew the whistle.  There is nothing more publicly important than that speech, and this policy could potentially be used to punish that speech because it’s so broad and because it’s so vague.  So it has two serious constitutional problems there.

“For instance, one piece of that says you can’t speak in a way that undermines somebody’s reputation.  But if you speak truthfully, and they’ve earned a bad reputation because of dangerous policies, that’s publicly important speech and it’s protected by the First Amendment.”

The United States Constitution is one important reason the rights of employees to express their views must be respected, but it’s also worth mentioning that using fear to control the conversations of people who work for you is just poor leadership.  

The ability of a school district to effectively serve its students depends in part on whether it is willing to hear legitimate criticism, consider those perspectives, and course correct if change is needed.  When a school board actively discourages feedback from front line workers who have the clearest view of how policy actually plays out, it deprives the district of opportunities to improve.

In addition, having Big Brother constantly monitoring off-the-clock discussions and punishing employees for simply speaking their minds is harmful to morale, and positive morale has never been more important in the education profession than it is right now.  Union County is located right next to a district–Charlotte-Mecklenburg–whose school board has stated publicly that it will “act to ensure that employees feel free to express their views without fear of retribution,” and where the local salary supplement is roughly double what it is in Union County.  

Rather than driving good educators away, Union County needs to be intentional about cultivating positive relationships between leadership and rank and file employees and creating working conditions that will allow it to attract and retain the engaged, solutions-oriented educators our schools need.

Union County Association of Educators members who believe their First Amendment rights may have been violated under the UCPS social media policy are highly encouraged to contact the NCAE Advocacy Center for legal assistance. 

If you are not currently a member of NCAE, there has never been a better time to join.