Candidate would be "advocate"
By Matt Shaw
Published in News on May 17, 2004 1:58 PM
Marshall Stewart has overseen agricultural teaching in North Carolina's schools, but he has a bigger job in mind.
Stewart is one of three Democrats running for state superintendent of public education, the top post in the state's school system. His campaign took him through Goldsboro Friday.
If elected, Stewart would be "the top child advocate for the state of North Carolina," he said during an interview at the News-Argus.
The son of a Pentecostal Free Will Baptist minister, Stewart, 40, grew up in eastern North Carolina, primarily in Pitt and Sampson counties. He graduated from Midway High School in Sampson County, where he later returned to teach.
Later, he was the state director of agriculture education, working through N.C. State University. That job required him to travel to schools in rural parts of the state, he said.
Those experiences have helped him understand the challenges faced by rural school districts, especially when compared to urban ones, he said. "There's tremendous differences."
As schools superintendent, Stewart says he would focus on these objectives:
*Improving student achievement through focus on individual needs. "Our schools are not factories," he said. "We need to help children achieve their potential."
*Bringing people with passion for teaching into the career. "We need to recruit, retain and reward these people," he said.
*Replacing delapidated school buildings. "Some districts have buildings that are absolutely falling down around their feet," he said. Also, many schools are well above their capacities and need expansions.
Stewart would be a "relentless leader" for improved education for all, he said.
He does not support the federal "No Child Left Behind" act because he believes it ultimately will require school systems to issue vouchers.
He has supported the state's "ABCs of Education" program because it has been proven to lead schools to improvement, he added.
In general, he likes the "community school" movement that has led to calls for smaller high schools in Grantham and Mount Olive, he said. High schools seem to work better if their populations are in the 500-600 range. When they get bigger than 1,000, they tend to lose support from parents and students, he said.
Stewart graduated from N.C. State University in 1986 and taught at Midway High School for two years. In 1988, he joined the staff of the National FFA Organization where he served as the manager of FFA's leadership and personal development workshops, director of membership marketing, recruitment and retention, and director of the FFA's Teacher Services Program.
In 1994, he became executive director of the National Association of Agricultural Education and led initiatives in the professional development of teachers, legislative affairs and teacher training.
In 1996, Marshall returned to North Carolina to become the state agricultural education coordinator. He oversaw 380 agriculture teachers and 42,000 students in North Carolina's public schools.
He holds a master's and doctorate degrees also from NCSU. He and his wife, Jan, live in Wake County with his 10-year-old son John.
The other Democrats seeking the party's nomination are June S. Atkinson of Raleigh and J.B. Buxton of Charlotte. The Republicans also have a primary -- Bill Fletcher of Cary versus Jeanne Smoot of Raleigh.
The primaries will be July 20. The winners will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.
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