Last Wednesday, while visiting Riverwood Middle School, Gov. Pat McCrory relived a personal nightmare: He visited a band room.
In eighth grade, the governor said, his band teacher threw a number of batons at him for falling behind the tempo of the theme song from “Hawaii 5-0.” On Wednesday, McCrory said he was nervous just to stand near the snare and bass drums.
“It still haunts me to this day,” he said.
The governor came to Johnston County on Wednesday to tour a few Riverwood Middle classrooms and hold a roundtable discussion with teachers about pay, technology and testing. McCrory said the stop at the school was part of a larger effort to hear how teachers think North Carolina can improve its schools.
“Trying to determine the next step to take in the future, not to relive what’s already been accomplished or not accomplished, but to determine what to do in the future,” the governor said.
The state raised teacher pay on average by nearly 5 percent this year, and the Johnston County Board of Commissioners chipped in another 1 percent increase locally. McCrory now sees the question of compensation as one of distribution, not amount.
“If in the future we do have more money for potential pay raises, I think the big debate will be how to distribute those pay raises,” McCrory said. “Across the board, based on performance, market-rate conditions ... ?”
In other schools he has visited, McCrory said he hadn’t heard a consensus, but at Riverwood, he sensed a desire to see something besides a blanket increase. Caroline Daily, who teaches eighth grade English and serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Safer Schools, argued that teachers placed in leadership roles should be compensated for it.
“I believe we all agreed that the more work you put in, the more you need to get out of that,” Daily said. “I myself am the lead teacher for English in the school. I’m the hall teacher for the eighth grade hall and am also the AIG lead, which is for the advanced students in our school. There’s a lot of work that goes into that; there are no pay raises that go along with that.”
McCrory’s meeting with the Riverwood teachers was closed to the public, and Daily was the only teacher from the discussion made available to reporters. Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory’s Democratic challenger for governor, sent out a release criticizing the closed-door meeting. McCrory said he closed the meeting so teachers would feel to be candid.
“Out of respect for the teachers, so they could be open with me with no pressure whatsoever,” McCrory. “I told them everything they told me was informal, off the record.”
McCrory did allow reporters to tag along as he visited two English classes, a social studies class and the band room. In Daily’s English class, the governor took questions from students about his reading habits and experience as a student. When asked his favorite book, the governor said George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984.”
“I read it in 1971, and 1984 seemed like forever,” McCrory said. “Sadly, some parts of that book have come to fruition, with Big Brother and purging ideas. It’s a great book. I don’t know why I picked it up. I was just thinking of some of the current events.”
In asking McCrory how school helped him become governor, McKenzie Sizemore unearthed the origins of McCrory’s political ambitions. He said that as a junior in high school, a teacher persuaded him to run for student body president and even helped write his speech for him.
“I had never been involved in any school activity before that, never given a speech before,” McCrory said. “I gave my first speech in front of the school, and I was a nervous wreck.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson