The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

October 29, 2012

Atkinson, Tedesco fight to lead state schools

By Scott Mooneyham for the SNAP
SNAP

Monday, October 29, 2012 — RALEIGH – It might be easy to dismiss a local school board member running for a statewide office if that person weren’t John Tedesco.

Tedesco might not be widely known outside of Raleigh and Wake County. He’s certainly known there.

He’s been one of the lightning rods in bitter struggle for control of that school board and its school assignment policies.

The 37-year-old Republican has de-cided to use that political start to challenge Democrat June Atkinson in the race for state schools superintendent.

Atkinson, 64, is seeking a third term in the position. Unlike Tedesco, she is an educational insider and typically looks to avoid political controversy.

A former teacher and longtime education administrator, she worked for 27 years in the Department of Public Instruction before being elected schools superintendent in 2004, a contentious race ultimately settled by the General Assembly after her opponent sued to block her from taking office.

That background didn’t prevent her from suing Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2009 after the governor had created a new education CEO position that usurped Atkinson’s power. She won the lawsuit and forced Perdue to back down.

In seeking a third term, Atkinson is touting the public schools’ rising graduation rates and improving test scores, along with cooperative programs with the community college system that increase educational options for students.

She says public schools are doing more than ever to help prepare students for a global economy.

Tedesco has a different take.

A fundraiser and former nonprofit administrator, he is running as an educational reformer.

Despite being part of a conservative faction on the Wake County school board that has come under attack from the left, Tedesco, on the campaign trail, has largely focused on proposals with which most conservatives, moderates and liberals would agree. He wants to strengthen teaching, provide more support to teachers and emphasize reading in the early grades.

He has also criticized a “culture of teaching to the test.” “It deprives our children of everything we know we’re supposed to be learning … in allowing our children to be critical thinkers,” Tedesco said.

He does support merit pay for teachers, an idea resisted by parts of the educational establishment.

Tedesco has said that he also wants more educational choices for parents, but while running for the office, he hasn’t specifically endorsed tax credits or taxpayer-provided vouchers for parents who send their children to private schools.

He has said that state officials need to “look more broadly as to how the dollars follow a child.”

Atkinson is vehemently opposed to tax credits and vouchers for private schooling, saying they will undermine resources for public education. She has accused Tedesco of flip-flopping on the issue.

She also calls for-profit charter schools “dismal failures.”

Atkinson has pointedly questioned Tedesco’s leadership. At one forum, she referred to a “cloud of chaos surrounding him,” a reference to controversies swirling around Wake County school board politics.

In 2012, local school board politics may have a significant bearing on statewide school politics.