NC superintendent’s private, invitation-only education event draws criticism

February 19, 2019
State Superintendent Mark Johnson

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson plans to make a “major” education announcement Tuesday night in front of 700 guests at the Raleigh Convention Center. But the private, invitation-only event is drawing criticism from the North Carolina Association of Educators, as well as some teachers and parents who were turned away after trying to get tickets to the event online.

Johnson has not revealed what his announcement will be, but BB&T Chairman and CEO Kelly King will be a featured keynote speaker.

About 30 people found a link for the “Innovation and Leadership Dinner and Program” event and were granted tickets but had to be turned away due to space limitations, according to the superintendent’s spokesman, Drew Elliot. One teacher, who wrote about her disappointment on Facebook, was later given a ticket after someone gave up a seat for her.

“We were hoping to be able to accommodate everybody,” said Elliot, who said about half of the 700 invited attendees are educators. Those invited include regional teacher and principal of the year finalists for the past few years and other educators recommended by local superintendents.

Susan Book, a parent with Save Our Schools NC, said she was one of the people who found the link and signed up, only to be told later she could not come. She and others in her group thought about crashing the event but decided to turn to social media instead. They have planned a “tweet storm” to share their unhappiness about the private nature of the event.

“That’s very elitist and not what public education is all about,” Book said.

NC Association of Educators President Mark Jewell said he is invited to the event and plans to attend, although he has felt “conflicted” about whether to go since his group was not consulted about the mystery announcement.

“I don’t like the exclusiveness of it,” he said. “None of us have any idea what the event is about, and that concerns me.”

The superintendent’s spokesman said the NCAE was not consulted because its president has “refused to meet with the superintendent” in the past.

“They have shut themselves out of the process,” Elliot said.

Responding to criticism about the event being private, Elliot said 700 people will be there, as well as the news media.

“We can’t afford to rent out Panthers Stadium,” he said.

The event will not be taxpayer funded, but Elliot declined to say who is paying.

“I think that will become clear tomorrow night,” he said. “We want to get everybody together in one room and make a real step forward for public education in North Carolina.”