On Friday, April 16, North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt visited several schools in Western North Carolina, including Haywood County’s Clyde Elementary School and Waynesville Middle School.

Truitt, a Republication, took the helm as state superintendent in November, replacing Mark Johnson (R). Truitt, who has long been an advocate for schools to resume in-person learning, was eager to see how schools were performing in the western part of the state after the strain of the pandemic.

“One thing that was fascinating, of all of the schools that we went to, 80% of the kids were back in school,” Truitt said during a brief meeting on Friday at the Clyde Education Center. “That’s less than we are seeing across the state — on average, we see about 30% not returning to in-person.”

While touring schools in Macon, Swain, Jackson and Haywood counties, Truitt said one thought came to her mind throughout the entire tour: “Well-adjusted.”

“With what I saw today, we wouldn’t have known that these kids were just coming back to school,” Truitt said. “We saw a lot of students who are learning, a lot of teachers who are striving to meet the needs of students, a lot of accommodations being made, a lot of collaboration with adults and a lot of good relationships with school superintendents and the school boards — which is not something you always see. I saw a lot of new leaders and new principals alongside veteran administrators, working together.”

Truitt also pointed to western school systems like Haywood County’s as a model for how she would like state education to look as it moves out of the pandemic. She even used the phrase, “West is best” in describing the school systems.

Haywood County Schools brought back its K-5 students last October for in-person learning five days a week.

“I don’t know what they did to do this, but they clearly adjusted very well to bringing kids back in school,” Truitt said. “The kids seem to have not missed a beat, and the teachers looked like they had been the building all this time.”

Truitt said the schools she visited with high student poverty rates also were impressive.

“I’m always fascinated when I go to a school and there’s significant poverty in it and I can’t tell — that’s how I felt where I was,” she said.

Building teacher engagement

Right after Truitt was elected as the state superintendent in November, she had the goal in mind of building a leadership team, not just filling vacant positions. This meant building engagement with teachers and principals throughout the state.

To improve these relationships, Truitt created three assistant positions on her leadership team: Special Assistant to the Superintendent; Educator Engagement, which was assigned to Julie Pittman; and Principal Engagement, which was delegated to Tabari Wallace.

“We’re interested in building relationships with all teachers,” Truitt said, pointing to Pittman, as the leader in charge of teacher engagement. “Teachers so often feel like things are done to them and they are the last to know about things that start in Raleigh and trickle all the way out here, so she is doing things like weekly communications with teachers across the state. She’s been on a lot more visits than I have.”

In fact, Truitt and Pittman made a visit to Cullowhee on Thursday night to attend the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2021 Prudential NC Beginning Teacher of the Year event held on the Western Carolina University Campus. The event offered an opportunity to rub elbows with local teachers.

“That was one of the reason we wanted to be at the Beginning Teacher of the Year event last year — we want to make sure we’re not about choosing certain orgs over others, and we want to be a resource to lift up all teachers’ voices.”

About Catherine Truitt

As North Carolina state superintendent, Truitt’s work is focused on improving the state’s public schools, expanding innovation, and creating new opportunities for students to learn, grow and successfully transition into the post-secondary plans of their choice.

Truitt’s service in education began as a high school English teacher, where she spent 10 years in the classroom at both the high school and middle school levels. Her last three years in the classroom were spent at West Johnston High School, where she taught English to 11th- and 12th-grade students.

In 2012, Truitt joined the International Center for Leadership in Education, where she worked as a school turnaround coach with underperforming school districts. She collaborated with principals and superintendents to craft plans to close achievement gaps while developing whole-district transformation initiatives. Truitt also served as a coach for teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade, helping them develop strategies to foster student engagement and cultivate learning.

In 2015, Truitt was given the opportunity to apply her experience as a teacher and coach to help shape education policy in North Carolina when Gov. Pat McCrory appointed her as his senior education advisor. In the Governor’s Office, she coordinated policy for all dimensions of public education and helped lead the development of strategic state education policy goals for ages 0-20.

Most recently, Truitt served as chancellor of nonprofit Western Governors University North Carolina (WGU NC). As chancellor, she focused on increasing access to higher education for the 1.5 million North Carolinians with some college but no degree. Truitt collaborated with community colleges, hospitals, school districts and economic development groups to ensure that state workforce demands were being met. Prior to joining WGU NC, Truitt served as Associate Vice President of University and P-12 Partnerships at UNC General Administration, helping strengthen the educator pipeline and supporting public colleges of education.

Truitt is a 1994 graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She received her master’s in education from the University of Washington in 1997. She and her husband, Jeff, an attorney and captain in the U.S. Navy Reserves, live in Cary. They have one daughter in college and a son and daughter enrolled in Wake County public schools.

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