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State Superintendent visits WNC schools

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt tours Smokey Mountain Elementary School during her visit to Jackson County on April 16. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt tours Smokey Mountain Elementary School during her visit to Jackson County on April 16.

North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Schools, Catherine Truitt, ended a tour of Western North Carolina Schools today, April 16, with a visit to the Haywood County School System. 

Truitt was elected to the position of State Superintendent during the November 2020 general election, beating her opponent, Jen Mangrum, by less than three percentage points. This was her first official school tour since becoming State Superintendent. 

The tour included visits to schools in Macon, Swain, Jackson and Haywood Counties. On Thursday night, April 16, Truitt spoke at the ceremony for the beginning teacher of the year award in Jackson County and had the opportunity to meet all of the finalists for the award. 

In Jackson County, Truitt also visited Smokey Mountain Elementary School. Along with district leaders, Truitt went to several classrooms where she observed and spoke with teachers and staff about the unique environment in Jackson County Schools. 

JCPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton said Truitt seemed genuinely interested in the school and especially enjoyed getting to know the students. 

“I was very pleased to share the great things the staff and administration are doing at Smokey Mountain Elementary,” Tipton said.  “She is welcome back anytime her schedule permits.

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In Haywood County, Truitt and her entourage toured Clyde Elementary and Waynesville Middle School, and ended her day at the Education Center in Clyde for a brief meeting with HCS administration.

“One thing that was fascinating was that in all of the schools that we went to, 80% of the kids were back in school. That's more than what we're seeing, what we've seen so far in other parts of the state,” said Truitt. 

During the tour, Truitt said she saw a lot of student-centered learning, teachers striving to meet the needs of individual children in their class and accommodations made to meet the needs of all learners. 

“I saw good relationships between superintendents and local boards, which is not something you always see,” said Truitt. “I saw a lot of new leaders, new young leaders alongside veteran administrators, everybody working together.”

Truitt said she felt like schools in Haywood County were very well-adjusted to the teaching and learning in person. 

“The teachers looked like they've been in the building the whole school year. It looks like they didn't miss a step,” said Truitt. “I was in another County earlier this week that had teachers in classrooms that were only doing virtual learning because they had a significant number of children who were still at home, but we didn't see that today.” 

During the pandemic, local school boards and administration have had the ability to choose the learning plan that best fits their district, within the bounds set by Governor Roy Cooper’s executive orders regarding public eduation. 

“The West is a really good example of what we mean when we say one size doesn't fit all. There were lots of counties out West that had low infection rates, but had the ability to pivot very quickly if there was a case or a cluster. They may be in the same region, but each County is different from another,” said Truitt. 

During the election, the North Carolina Association of Educators backed Truitt’s opponent, Jen Mangrum. After Truitt was elected, NCAE president Tamika Walker Kelly said “Nothing Catherine Truitt could say shows me that she’s dedicated to putting students and educators first.”

In response, Truitt said “I have said all along that I will meet with them, certainly if they would like to meet, but their president’s [Walker Kelly’s] tweet the morning after the election lead me to believe they don’t want to meet with me,” Truitt said. “She tweeted a very negative statement, the only group to tweet those types of comments came from the NCAE.”

During her visit Smoky Mountain News asked Truitt how she was going to work to build a constructive relationship with NCAE. Truitt said that she is interested in building relationships with all teachers. 

“I have created a position that is called, special advisor to the superintendent on educator engagement,” said Truitt. “She is charged with creating what I call ‘feedback loop’ because teachers so often feel like things are done to them and they are the last to know about things that start in Raleigh and then trickle all the way out here. So she is doing things like weekly communications with teachers across the state. She's been on a lot more visits than I have. She goes and holds teacher round tables and all teachers are invited. She is very much involved in lifting up teacher voices wherever she goes. That was one of the reasons we wanted to be with the beginning teachers of the year last night from across the state.”

Truitt said that NCAE makes up a very small percentage of teachers in the state, and she wants to make sure she is not about choosing certain organizations over others. 

“We want to be a resource and lift up all teacher voices,” said Truitt. 

Julie Pittman, who Truitt appointed to the position of special advisor to the superintendent on educator engagement, was part of the entourage traveling with Truitt. Pittman said she met with two of the three major organizations representing North Carolina teachers this week and plans to work with all teachers and engage all stakeholders. 

Pittman also has a counterpart who is a special advisor on principal engagement to lift up principal voices.

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