State Superintendent Mark Johnson Tours Chinquapin Elementary School
KENANSVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA- October 23, 2018- State Superintendent Mark Johnson toured Chinquapin Elementary School yesterday to see firsthand the effects of Hurricane Florence. Joined by Representative Jimmy Dixon and Senator Brent Jackson, along with Duplin County Board of Education Chairman Brent Davis and Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan, Johnson had the opportunity to speak with school administrators, teachers and district leaders. He listened to their concerns and shared his desire to continue to work at the state and national level to provide as much assistance as possible.
“The first and foremost priority is getting students back into school. We are excited about that. Now we need to start working with the federal government about what kind of flexibility we can have around all of these end of year tests because we have students who have missed 5, 6 weeks of school and are starting over again close to Halloween,” said Johnson. “There are flexibilities and at the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh we are working closely with our federal partners to take advantage of as many of those flexibilities as we can for those students.”
He commended the NC General Assembly for making it possible to forgive 20 of the days missed due to the storm.
“One of the first things the General Assembly did was come back and forgive those days. They wanted to let students and teachers know they weren’t going to have to worry about making days up over weekends or Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Johnson noted. “The General Assembly also came back and made sure teachers knew they were going to have the funds to be paid for those days that they weren’t here. That was a very strong statement and I thank the General Assembly. I know we have Representative Jimmy Dixon and Senator Brent Jackson were here with us on this tour. They are from the area and have been working very closely with local leadership to bring as much money and as much flexibility as they can to these schools and that will continue.”
Duplin County Board of Education Chairman Brent Davis praised Dixon and Jackson’s local and state-level efforts to guide the county through the storm. He noted to all present the Board’s desire for assessment flexibility for students and teachers. “Our students missed roughly thirty percent of the regularly scheduled instructional time for first semester, which puts them at a severe disadvantage in regard to testing and competing at the state level,” said Davis. “We will do our best to make up time while maintaining integrity in our calendar by leaving breaks and Saturdays alone as much as possible.”
As Johnson continued his tour of the school, he observed places where water had forced the removal of floor tiles and the replacement of ceiling tiles. He credited local leadership and staff for the tremendous amount of work that has been accomplished since storm winds and water put a halt to the school year, just over six weeks ago.
Teachers shared with him that in many cases the entire contents their classrooms had been removed, completely cleaned, boxed, and placed back into their classrooms. They, too, shared their overwhelming excitement about their students’ return.
“Right now I’m just ready to see my children,” eighth-grade teacher Miriam Summerlin said. “We’re ready for them to walk in the door. We see them in the hallways every morning and greet our kids as they come in, so not having done that in the last several weeks has been very hard.” Summerlin also praised Superintendent Obasohan and the Board of Education for putting student and staff safety first.
Dr. Obasohan reiterated the top priority of safety, said the support for the county and Duplin County Schools has been strong.
“It has been tremendous, from the General Assembly to Representative Dixon and Senator Jackson. Mark Johnson, he has been calling me texting even on the weekends. He has always been in touch and wanting to do what is right for all students. He truly, truly cares. I am not a politician, but this man, what he has done in this critical time, he has earned my respect. He cares about our teachers, students, and staff and that means a lot to me.”
When questioned about planned, structured activities for students’ first day back, Dr. Obasohan was clear. “We want to bring our students back and make sure their mental and emotional state is strong. Our (DCS) family will be here to give them emotional support. We don’t want to rush their transition. We want to give them as much normalcy as possible, but at the same time, we want to be sensitive and we know this will take some time.”
On his decision to visit Chinquapin Elementary, Johnson said, “It’s important for us to get out here and let them to know that Raleigh has not forgotten about them, Charlotte has not forgotten about them, the rest of North Carolina has not forgotten about them. There is a long road to recovery for our fellow North Carolinians. We will be pushing for as much flexibility as possible because the most important thing is not a test score. It’s not a state standard. It’s that we get these students back into these warm, caring environments and they know that they are safe and they have routine again.”
Students will return to their classrooms tomorrow, thirty school days after they were released early on September 11 to prepare for the storm.