While giving his first address Thursday to the state’s highest ranking education officials, North Carolina’s new public schools chief announced a “listening tour” that will take him around the state.

Mark Johnson, the former Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools board of education member, won the State Superintendent race in November. This month’s State Board of Education meeting was the first since Johnson was sworn in to his new post. Instead of the usual superintendent’s report, where the head of the Department of Public Instruction gives an update on happenings within the agency, Johnson took the time to introduce himself and outline the principles that will guide him over the next four years.

Johnson said a sense of urgency, ownership of the problems facing the department and innovation in solving them should drive its work.

“I believe that if we work together with urgency, ownership and innovation, we can start at the dawn of a new era in public education,” Johnson said.

‘First step’

He then announced his “first step” as the new state superintendent would be to hold a listening tour across the state.

“I will spend the rest of this school year doing just that — listening,” he said.

Johnson said he’d like to meet with key stakeholders in each community — teachers, students, parents, business leaders, lawmakers and more.

“What is it we need to do to better support you in your mission to provide opportunity to students?” Johnson said.

The listening tour will be a welcome opportunity, said Rodney Shotwell, superintendent of Rockingham County Schools and president of the North Carolina School Superintendents Association.

“I think going out to our school districts across the state for a listen and learn tour is a great way to understand the needs which vary throughout the state,” Shotwell said. “Mr. Johnson will come away with a better understanding of some of the challenges that our rural, suburban and urban school districts face.

“I know it will take some time to cover the different regions of the state, but it will be worth the time and effort.”

Johnson did not give specifics for when the tour will start or where he will make stops and did not return requests for more information. He said he would report back to the board with results after the current school year wraps up.

Bill Cobey, chairman of the state board, said he will support Johnson’s vision and shares his sense of urgency.

“I have felt a sense of urgency since I started sitting in this chair” Cobey said.

There was no talk of the pending lawsuit filed by Cobey and the state board seeking to limit some powers newly granted to Johnson by legislation passed by the General Assembly in last month’s final special session. House Bill 17 stripped some powers from the State Board of Education, transferring them to the state superintendent. After the bill passed, Johnson released a statement praising the action.

Those changes have yet to take effect, though. The Wake County Superior Court granted the state board’s request for a temporary injunction while it waits for three-judge panel to hear their case to block the General Assembly’s move.

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aherron@wsjournal.com (336) 727-4068

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