JOHN HOOD COLUMN: Superintendent races draw five candidates

RALEIGH — Of the 10 executive offices that make up North Carolina’s Council of State, half will be open seats in the 2024 elections. That is, there’ll be no incumbents. The politicians currently in those offices are leaving, either to retire or to run for something else.

Catherine Truitt, the current state superintendent of public instruction, isn’t one of them. She’s running for reelection this year.

A Republican first elected to the job in 2020, Truitt is a former teacher and administrator who previously served as associate vice president of the University of North Carolina system and as chancellor of Western Governors University, a private institution based in Utah but serving distance-learning students across the country.

Pointing to recent increases in reading scores, Truitt credits her department’s successful implementation of a 2021 law that changed North Carolina’s approach to reading instruction, including a stronger emphasis on phonics. “When we invest in research-based professional development for North Carolina teachers, they produce results,” she says.

Truitt helped draft a bill to remove critical-race theory from teacher training (though it was later vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper) and praises the state’s expansion of school-choice options for allowing more parents to “make the decisions that are best for their children.” She has the endorsement of former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and several key Republican legislators, including House Majority Leader John Bell, state representatives Jason Saine and Bill Rabon and state senators Vickie Sawyer and Kevin Corbin.

Her challenger in the Republican primary is Michele Morrow, a former nurse and homeschool educator who ran unsuccessfully for Wake County Board of Education in 2022.

Describing herself as a “a moral, no-nonsense leader,” Morrow criticizes “DEI and critical race theory teacher training,” and promises to “impose order and accountability at the Department of Public Instruction.”

Among Morrow’s endorsers are school-board members Laura Blackwell of Cabarrus County, Don Sigmon and Tim Settlemyre of Catawba, Angie Todd and Louis Rogers of Onslow, Melissa Mason of New Hanover, Robert Levy of Moore and Keith Locklear of Bladen.

On the Democratic side, three candidates seek the nomination. Currently an assistant principal at Cary’s Panther Creek High School, Kenon Crumble previously served as principal of Whitaker School in Butner and as a counselor at the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

“I pledge to prioritize equity,” he says, “ensuring that every child, regardless of background, has access to high-quality education.” He believes North Carolina should make greater use of education technologies and community partnerships.

Katie Eddings is an Air Force veteran who teaches at Lee Early College in Sanford and was once named her county’s teacher of the year. “We are in a staffing crisis” in public education, she says. “We need to offer competitive salaries, reinstate lost benefits, and treat teachers as professionals.”

Eddings also supports spending more money on mental-health services for students and holding more emergency drills in schools to promote safety.

Mo Green is an attorney by training who formerly served as superintendent of Guilford County Schools, general counsel and deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a grantmaker based in Winston-Salem.

“It is long past time for our state to truly fulfill its promise to each of its students – that no matter who you are, you will receive high-quality educational opportunities that will prepare you to be successful,” he says. “We can make that happen if we invest fully in public education, ensure safe and secure learning environments for our students, enhance parent and community support, and revere our educators.”

governors Jim Hunt and Bev Perdue, former state superintendent June Atkinson, and former state board of education chairman Bill Harrison have endorsed Green, as have the N.C. Association of Educators, the Sierra Club and the Durham People’s Alliance.

All five of these candidates maintain campaign websites where you can read more about their backgrounds, endorsements and positions on education issues. Early voting for North Carolina’s March primaries begins on Feb. 15.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.