Politics & Government

Wake school board member wants to be state education superintendent

Wake County school board member Keith Sutton poses a question as the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the Wake County school board have a joint meeting at the Chamber of Commerce offices in downtown Raleigh, NC on March 21, 2013.
Wake County school board member Keith Sutton poses a question as the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the Wake County school board have a joint meeting at the Chamber of Commerce offices in downtown Raleigh, NC on March 21, 2013. cseward@newsobserver.com

Wake County school board member Keith Sutton has joined the growing list of candidates who want to lead the state’s public schools.

Sutton announced on the Feb. 16 episode of “Education Matters,” a weekly show of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, that he will seek the Democratic nomination for state schools superintendent in 2020. Sutton, 49, cited as his qualifications his nearly 10 years on the Wake school board, his work as an education consultant and his years spent as an advocate for the minority community.

“I have the experience, I have the commitment, I have the leadership to lead this state and put us back on a plane or trajectory where North Carolina is seen as the best state in the country for education,” Sutton said on the television show.

Mark Johnson, a Republican, was elected state superintendent of public instruction in 2016. He has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election.

Two other Democrats have announced they will run for state superintendent: Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member James Barrett and N.C. State professor Michael Maher.

Sutton was appointed to the school board in 2009. He most recently ran unopposed for re-election in 2018. He was board chairman when voters approved an $810 million school construction bond referendum in 2013. He’s currently vice chairman of Wake’s board and is president of the N.C. Caucus of Black School Board Members.

Among the issues he’s focused on in Wake is reducing school suspensions and ensuring racial equity in schools.

The Raleigh resident is an education innovation consultant with FocusED, LLC, a firm he started in 2017 to support organizations in improving and transforming education. Before then, he was excellence director for BEST NC, a business coalition focused on education.

Sutton’s experience also includes having been executive director of the state NAACP and president of the Triangle Urban League. He worked in the campaigns of former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton and former Gov. Bev Perdue.

Sutton and his potential opponent, Johnson, both support raising pay for teachers and principals. Johnson included both items on his legislative agenda he announced Tuesday.

“Our principals and our teachers are the first and second biggest impact when it comes to student achievement and making sure students are ready to learn so we can do more in that regard,” Sutton said on “Education Matters.”

But Sutton differentiated himself from Johnson, who is an outspoken supporter of charter schools.

Sutton said charter schools are here to stay but charters should go back to their original intent of being incubators of innovation that are emulated at traditional public schools. Sutton said traditional public schools should get the same flexibility as charter schools in areas such as setting the school calendar and spending state money.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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