By KEVIN GRIFFIN – Jan 17, 2020 Updated Jan 17, 2020

Catherine Truitt is one of two Republican candidates running to succeed Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Jackson, a Republican who is running for lieutenant governor.

Truitt, a 49-year-old Cary resident, currently heads the nonprofit Western Governors University of North Carolina, which she describes as an online university intended to expand access to higher education.

She was previously a teacher, senior educational adviser to Gov. Pat McCrory and administrator within the University of North Carolina system.

Her Republican opponent in the race for superintendent is Craig Horn. Five Democrats have also filed to run for the position.

The primaries will be held on March 3.

Truitt was in Catawba County Thursday for a campaign appearance. Prior to her appearance, she sat down to discuss her qualifications for the job and views on educational policy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On her qualifications for the job:

I believe (the superintendent) should have been a teacher.

I also believe that they should have some policy experience in knowing what the landscape of education policy is both nationally and within the state. They should have experience working with a legislature.

They also need to understand that the purpose of K-12 education is to prepare kids ultimately to be part of the workforce.

So what I’ve learned in higher education in the last three years — having spent my entire adult life in K-12 — is that there is sometimes a disconnect between what we’re doing in K-12 and what kids need to be able to do not just in four-year college but also if they want to go to community college, join the military or get training and education.

On her top priorities if elected:

I think what we absolutely have to do — that several entities are already starting to work on — is we have to crack the nut on early literacy education.

Too many kids — in fact two-thirds of (fourth-graders) in North Carolina — do not read at grade level.

So we are not doing a good enough job of educating our pre-service teachers on how to teach kids to learn how to read.

One of the main things that we can do is encourage our colleges of education to get on the same page as far as how we teach early literacy instruction to pre-service teachers and that means using the recommendations of the National Reading Panel.

The other thing that we need to do is establish other pathways for kids to be successful after high school that don’t involve going to a four-year college.

Right now, only a fifth of kids in North Carolina earn a four-year degree by the time they are 24. Many of them start actually and aren’t able to finish. So we have to have other pathways and they have to be on and off-ramps. Maybe I’m going to graduate and I’m not going to go to four-year college this year. I’m going to go to community college and maybe that will work and then I’ll go to a four-year college. Or maybe I’m not going to go to an early degree until I’m 35.

The point is that we need to do a better job of leveraging our community college system campuses and the certificates and training that they offer.

On restoring local control in education:

One of the things that I would advocate for in this role is more local control for our boards of education and superintendents.

This is a really big state. One county is not like another and we certainly don’t live in an age where there’s a one-size approach to anything.

We need to continue down a path we’ve already started on of leveraging technology to assist — not replace — teachers in customizing education for their students.

On gearing education for workforce development:

Right now, I would say that our economy and our public system of K-12 education are out of sync. We are not producing enough highly skilled workers to allow our economy to flow the way it needs to.

By 2024 in North Carolina, job growth is going to have outstripped population growth.

Right now, unemployment is so low that there’s a job for everybody but not everybody has the skills that they need to take those jobs.

We’ve always been able in North Carolina to meet workforce demand because we are a net importer of talent. People love to move here from other states.

We have got to start educating the people who live in North Carolina, not just give those jobs to people who come from out of state.

And that means making sure that people who live in low-income communities, whether it’s urban or rural, are getting the education they need to prepare them for the 21st century global economy.

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