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Houston explains decision to skip Democratic forum

Henderson County School Board member Josh Houston explained that he skipped a Democratic Party forum Saturday because he was not told that the setting of the forum was a campaign event for State schools Superintendent June Atkinson.

“I was graciously extended an invitation by the Henderson County Democrat Party to attend and I accepted,” Houston, a former Republican Party executive committee member seeking a second term on the School Board, said in an email to reporters on Saturday. “For whatever reason I was under the impression that it was just a School Board candidate forum.”
When he learned that the event included Atkinson, he said, he “made a call to the Democrat Party and politely canceled. My reasons are that I believe that the NC Department of Public Instruction led by June Atkinson has encouraged a system of over-testing along with other issues. …

"As a public school parent and especially as a member of the Henderson County Board of Public Education, I did not want to give the impression that I was supportive of the above mentioned issues involving the NC Department of Public Instruction and our school system by attending an event for current NC Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.
“I stand with the parents and students of Henderson County and our local school system. A change of leadership is needed at the NC Department of Public Instruction this November.”
To support his view that Atkinson is unresponsive to issues that affect education at the classroom level, Houston included a letter that then-schools superintendent David L. Jones sent to Atkinson in February expressing frustration over the state DPI’s reversal of a decision Atkinson had made. Jones was trying to get DPI to change end of course testing, which as structured now penalizes block-schedule high schools. (Three of the county’s four high schools are on the block schedule.)

The usually mild-mannered Jones, who retired in June, accused Atkinson of misleading and making him look bad after he had told other superintendents "that we would be conducting a second administration (of the EOC) at the end of first semester based on your directions."

Here is the letter:

February 1, 2016

Dear Dr. Atkinson:
I want to express my frustration and disappointment regarding our on going discussion and ultimate final decision regarding a second administration of high school EOCs for students on the first semester block schedule. As you know, my main concern has always been about the inequity of the testing opportunities afforded to our students as determined by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. While I have provided a great deal of details in the past regarding my concerns, simply put, high school students who take an EOC during the first semester of a block schedule are not given the same opportunity as high school students taking an EOC on the second semester of a block schedule or a high school student taking an EOC on a year long schedule.
When I spoke to you about this issue, you seemed genuinely concerned and indicated you would try to resolve this issue. Through personal conversations and emails, you provided me with instructions on how we could make this happen and work for our students. I was so pleased with your response in your December 11th email, which stated, “This policy gives you the flexibility to have another administration of a high school course after first semester, given that the policy is followed.” You even spoke at one of our WRESA meetings, explaining how we could move forward. We worked with our High School Principals to create the appropriate procedure we would utilize. I followed up with you, and copied others at DPI, to explain how we would proceed and never heard back from you that this was a problem.
Dr. Rebecca Garland sent a memorandum to Superintendents on January 15, 2016, which seemed to put into question how we should move forward. I followed up with a memorandum to Dr. Garland on January 18, 2016, to clarify our procedure based on communications with our State Superintendent of Schools. That was followed up by a conference call with you and Dr. Tammy Howard on Friday, January 22, 2016, where you indicated we could move forward based on your interpretation of the State Board policy on credit recovery. Then, the following week I have several telephone calls with Dr. Howard and members of her staff only to hear that we could not move forward as this didn’t follow policy. I then followed up with a telephone call to Dr. Howard and then a telephone call to Dr. Garland to seek clarification and also voice my dismay that the directions I had received from the State Superintendent of Schools were not accurate and I would need to tell my High School Principals that we would not be given the ability to provide this opportunity to our high school students who have taken an EOC first semester. Given that I had been discussing this issue since the beginning of the school year, it would have been extremely helpful to have been told this before the week we were ready to implement our plan. While I had received the go ahead from you, both the regional and state accountability staff members, and ultimately Dr. Howard, indicated that this would not be acceptable.
I have always tried to conduct myself as a professional, and I must tell you, I feel like I have been misled and treated unprofessionally. I communicated with my colleagues in the western region and others across the state that we would be conducting a second administration at the end of first semester based on your directions. I value my reputation and this action has been very detrimental to me. I assured people that this was appropriate because I had received the go-ahead from the State Superintendent of North Carolina. This is very disappointing and has created a lack of trust.
What is unfortunate about this entire situation is there was a simple solution. All that had to be done was to tell LEAs that they could follow the same procedure that was utilized for summer school with their first semester block students to ensure equity for all.
This situation is an example of the poor communications that exist within the Department of Public Instruction and then their poor communications with LEAs. It doesn’t appear that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It is also apparent that the Department of Public Instruction is more concerned about what is convenient for their adults as opposed to what is best for our students.
In closing, I would strongly suggest that you deal with this inequity before the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. I would also suggest that you, as the leader of the Department of Public Instruction, have a candid conversation with members of the North Carolina School Superintendent Executive Board to seek advice on ways that DPI can better communicate, support and serve our students, schools, and LEAs across the state. Remember, “Do not listen with the intent to reply, but with the intent to understand.”

David L. Jones, Ed. S. Superintendent