Jen Mangrum is running for statewide office as the NC State Superintendent of Public Instruction. As a veteran educator who now teaches teachers, she is deeply committed to North Carolina’s public education system. In running for this office, Jen intends to support the professionalism of educators, fully-fund public schools, and expand equity and opportunity in every district.
Our Executive Director, Sarah Preston caught up with Jen last week and they talked about the need to empower educators and Jen’s deep passion for public schools. For Jen, “this isn’t a political move, it’s about what we could do for our children if we can get the system on the right track.” Read more about Jen’s passion for equity in schools, her plans to empower teachers and students, and why she is a champion for reproductive freedom.
SP: Why did you decide to run for Superintendent of Public Instruction?
Jen: We know that a public education should be the ultimate opportunity for every child in North Carolina, no matter what neighborhood they live in, or what they want to be when they grow up. We also know that this can’t happen without smart, equitable investment in our diverse school communities.
However, since the 2012 election, politicians in Raleigh have laid off thousands of teachers, slashed our UNC system budget by billions, attacked teacher salaries and tenure, took away the cap on charter schools, and have continued to defund our schools. After four years of Mark Johnson, our public school teachers deserve better, they deserve a champion for education. I’ve got 32 years of public education experience and I decided that I wanted to be able to represent educators and make a direct impact on not only our public schools, but on the 1.5 million students who attend them every day.
SP: What do you think is the most important thing that the government can do to help people now and into the future?
Jen: People of all political stripes agree that to ensure shared social progress in North Carolina we must have robust, equitable investments in our public education system, as well as a genuine, state-wide commitment to the empowerment of all students, educators and school personnel.
Our state constitution grants every child the right to receive a sound basic education. Not only that; free, high-quality public education is a necessary investment in our democracy and our collective future. A good education is the solution to combat widespread disinformation, disengagement, and division.
SP: What do you hope to accomplish for women and families in North Carolina if elected?
Jen: Number one, we need to continue to educate all of our students so they can make the best decisions for their lives. The number one thing that influences a child’s success in life is their access to an education.
As it relates specifically to women and families, here in North Carolina, around 80% of our teachers are female and as a teacher educator I work with these women everyday. Imagine the impact on North Carolina’s economy if we were paying our teachers at or above the national average.
Secondly, I want to create an Office of Equity to address inequity in our educational system. Students who traditionally have been marginalized should have support and that includes women. There are simple things we could be doing that could make a tremendous difference to young people in our schools. A simple change on a form would allow trans students to include their preferred name so that they aren’t misgendered regularly in school.
There is this African Proverb which says something like, when you educate a woman, you educate a nation. I want us to work within the Office of Equity that I would create to ensure that all of our women, regardless of color or what zipcode they grow up in, are given the same educational opportunities as others because we know that educated, healthy women can, and will, change the world.
Have you seen any advantages of being a woman while campaigning?
Well, like we say at Lillian’s List, when women run, women win! I really believe that. Voters know that women are experienced at making difficult decisions and multi-tasking. As wives, mothers, and through our work, we learn how to multitask and hear every side of a situation. This is definitely true of teachers as well. We balance things and work hard to hear all sides so I think voters know that women are more focused on moving forward in a way that brings every perspective to the table and the largest benefit to the whole.
Why are you a champion of reproductive freedom and gender equity?
Jen: My parents raised me to be pro-choice and taught me that I had the same rights and freedoms as men. I’m the mother of two daughters, 26 and 20, and I know firsthand that access to education and to sexual and reproductive health care is a requirement for them to make decisions for themselves. They deserve to feel a sense of agency over their own bodies.
What would you recommend people listen to, read, watch or do to bring them some joy while social distancing?
That’s a hard one. I’ve been reading Diane Ravitch’s book, Slaying Goliath, which is about our fight to save America’s public schools. I would recommend that to everyone because it’s hopeful and features a couple of NC teachers. She talks about North Carolina a lot and that makes me feel like we are on the cusp of something here. We can turn things around.
Getting outside helps me feel a little less cooped up as well. I’m a runner and tennis player, so as folks are able, they should get outside and enjoy Mother Nature. My dog just walked into the room so I would say it doesn’t hurt to spend a little time playing with your dog too!