N.C. teacher: Superintendent Mark Johnson “revoked” my access to Tuesday education summit

N.C. teacher: Superintendent Mark Johnson “revoked” my access to Tuesday education summit

- in Progressive Voices, Top Story
Veteran teacher Kim Mackey (L) and Superintendent Mark Johnson (R)

Editor’s note: Kim Mackey is a social studies teacher with Wake County Public Schools. She recently wrote an open letter to State Superintendent Mark Johnson, because she says her ticket to his special event this Tuesday had been “revoked.” In an email, a copy of which was shared with Policy Watch, Johnson wrote that the event was “at capacity.”

Johnson has said the invitation-only program at the Raleigh Convention Center will include  a “major announcement” about the state’s public education system. Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction, said Mackey was one of about 25 to 30 uninvited individuals who signed up for the event when the registration page was shared on social media. 

Elliot said they didn’t have the space to accommodate those requests, but he said roughly “half the room” Tuesday will be educators, chosen because they were regional teachers of the year or they were selected by local superintendents to join.  [Update: Mackey says Johnson’s office has offered her admission to the event after an invitee, state Sen. Sam Searcy, D-Wake, gave up his seat for her.] 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

My name is Kim Mackey and I would like to follow up regarding the cancellation of my ticket, and the tickets of other classroom stakeholders, to your Innovation and Leadership Dinner on February 19. As a teacher in my fifteenth year of teaching with hopes of staying in the classroom for at least another fifteen years, and a parent of two children who will be passing through public schools over the next fifteen years, I am sincerely interested in being present for your scheduled announcement regarding the future of education in North Carolina.

In your letter rescinding my ticket, you mentioned that you are “at capacity.” I can assure you that as someone who ends my day with a class of 34 seniors in a trailer classroom, I am accustomed to tight spaces. If you wish to spare me from the discomfort of an overcrowded room, I deal with it all day at work so a few hours one evening in a convention center sized-room is no sweat. I will bear any crowd to hear you announce that the state will invest in constructing more brick and mortar classrooms with lower class sizes to foster the development of our students.

You also “regret” that you will “not be able to provide…a seat at the dinner.” I do not require a seat. I’m used to standing all day as I coach students through critical thinking activities and address their individual needs. This includes opening my room to students during lunch periods when I do not have planned meetings, and prioritize answering their questions and supporting their efforts over finishing my turkey sandwich.

If you are concerned about having enough resources to supply enough dinners to meet the demand, I suggest serving smaller portions. That is how the state deals with per pupil spending, so surely if our students can endure being shortchanged in resources, your invited guests of mostly policy makers, philanthropic and community leaders can manage with lighter fare for one meal. In fact, I will decline a bite of dinner and eat another time to hear you share that our students will no longer deal with $1,000 pay cuts in per pupil spending when adjusted for inflation. I may bring a turkey sandwich to hold me over though. Maybe I’ll even get to finish it.

Before you correct me on your list of invited guests to include educators, I am curious to know what percent of your invited guests are classroom teachers. I look forward to your disclosure of this information. I would also like to note that as a classroom teacher I am a policy maker, philanthropist, and community leader, so I am confused at your distinguishing educators as a separate category in your emailed list.

As educators, we understand that presentations require a team effort. As you have tasked Kevin Wilkinson as the event organizer, and copied Susan Auton and Wade Butner with their state employee email addresses, we can see that you appreciate the work of those assisting you as N.C. Superintendent. We look forward to your announcement at your dinner that there will be funding to reinstate the over 9,000 teaching assistant positions cut since the recession and more counselors to support the academic and developmental needs of our students.

Perhaps since many of your guests are members of the business community, you plan to inspire them to model the efficiency of teachers in North Carolina and announce that additional corporate tax cuts will not go into place this year as planned.

While you have their attention, I would also like to be there when you announce that they should create pay and benefit structures that disincentivize their employees from working for them for more than 15 years by freezing their pay for years 15-24 — as the current teacher salary schedule is structured.

I would really like to see for myself their reactions when you tell them that they should forgo the experience of these employees in favor of those new to the workforce, or those who wish to transfer into their business with no industry experience. If these policies are good enough for our students and school systems, then wouldn’t they be good enough for their employees and businesses?

I cannot run my classroom like a business, or like this dinner, for the sake of my students. I do not dismiss a concerned parent with an email refusing to meet with them. I have enough faith in my policies and efforts to sit at any table with anyone and discuss decisions I make. Whatever you plan to announce, if it is in the best interest of students, I would hope that you have enough security in that announcement to not filter your audience. I request that you reconsider allowing classroom stakeholders who have expressed interest in hearing your announcement in person, and welcome the opportunity for us to be part of the conversation your guests have with each other while mingling at this event. It would serve us all well to listen to each other and explore common ground.

I appreciate your consideration of my request to reinstate my ticket and the tickets of others whom you have denied. I need to wrap this up as I have my own big announcement I wish to celebrate this weekend. My son turned 7 years old and I’m proud of the kind, socially conscious boy he is becoming. I’ve invited my family to celebrate his growth and recognize their support. It will be a tight fit in the house as it’s raining today, and some will have to stand while eating their dinner since there won’t be enough tables. I’m not sure that I have enough cake so I may have to slice it a bit smaller than usual. Despite that, the priority will be to celebrate my son’s special day, so we’ll make it work.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Kim Mackey

Kim Mackey is a social studies teacher at Green Hope High School in Wake County.