Next NC superintendent’s Teach for America work was foundation for education views

mark-johnson-2Republican Mark Johnson comes to the job of the state’s education chief promising to shake off the status quo, and is himself a nontraditional choice for state superintendent of public instruction.
Johnson is a lawyer for a technology firm in Winston-Salem who has been on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board for about two years. In last week’s elections he defeated Democrat June Atkinson, who has been the state’s education chief for 11 years and worked at DPI for about 28 years before she won the statewide office.
Two years as a Teach for America corps member at West Charlotte High School helped shaped Johnson’s views on public education, convincing him that problems need “hands-on solutions.”
He taught earth science to ninth-graders in a school where many students lived in poverty and struggled with classwork. Some students didn’t know whether they would eat at night. He knew one student lived in a motel.
In Johnson’s classes, he had students older than the typical freshmen; they had been held back. He tells the story about a 17-year-old student, someone who did not regularly attend class, who came to class one day eager to do the assignment. The student sat down for the silent reading exercise, but confessed to Johnson a few minutes later that he could not read it.
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