Superintendent-Elect Catherine Truitt Announces New Hires to DPI Staff

Raleigh

State Superintendent-Elect Catherine Truitt today announced her first wave of new hires to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Truitt said the new staff members will be essential to the operation and success of the department and for its critical support of schools across North Carolina. State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and Vice Chairman Alan Duncan said they welcomed Truitt’s additions to the staff.

Catherine Truitt, Superintendent-Elect for Public Instruction 
“I have sought to surround myself with the best of the best because our students, our teachers, and school personnel in this state deserve nothing but that. Each of these individuals are tremendously talented in their respective fields and will be pivotal to advancing outcomes and opportunities for students here in North Carolina,” said Truitt. “Their experience, their leadership, and their passion for public education will be critical to supporting a student-centered Department of Public Instruction that values the educator’s voice while speaking as a united front with the State Board.”

Eric Davis, Chairman of the State Board of Education 
“On behalf of my colleagues on the State Board, congratulations to Superintendent-Elect Truitt on recruiting these talented professionals to join the hard working and dedicated educators in DPI. Attracting talent is a hallmark of a strong leader and a first step in creating an even stronger team to serve North Carolina students. The State Board looks forward to working together as one team with Superintendent-Elect Truitt and the education professionals in DPI in raising the academic achievement of all North Carolina public school students.”

Alan Duncan, Vice-Chairman of the State Board of Education 
“Eric Davis and I, on behalf of the State Board of Education, have valued the opportunity to learn about the vision that Catherine Truitt is bringing to the position of State Superintendent of Instruction.  An indicator of the commitment that is being made to our students and educators statewide is reflected in the high quality and experience of the staff members that are being announced today.  The State Board looks forward to collaborating with the State Superintendent Elect and these new staff members to the Department of Public of Instruction who will join with the many dedicated employees already working at the Department to further strengthen critical support for our schools.”

STAFF ANNOUNCEMENTS:
Shelby Armentrout will join DPI as chief of staff. She is an education policy specialist with experience advising and developing education policy at both the executive and legislative levels of government in North Carolina. As education policy advisor to the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, she led research efforts on policy proposals aimed at supporting teachers, administrators and students. Most recently, she served as the director of government relations at Western Governors University, where she focused on expanding access and creating new opportunities in higher education for working adults. Throughout her career, she has supported state leaders to advocate for reducing barriers to education and increasing equity across the system. Shelby holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from UNC Chapel Hill.

Dr. Catherine Edmonds will join DPI as deputy superintendent of the Office of Equity. She brings more than 28 years’ experience in public education in North Carolina at both the K-12 and higher education levels. Prior to serving as superintendent for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, she served as the director of educational leadership and development and director of the NC Principal Fellows Program at the University of North Carolina System. Prior to assuming a position in higher education, Edmonds had an extensive career in K-12 education on both the local and state level and was named Teacher of the Year for her local district in 2001. She holds a bachelor of science degree in mathematics education from NC A&T University, obtained her master of administration and supervision at NC State University and later received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from NCSU as well. In this new role at DPI, Edmonds will work to ensure that the state’s education systems approach all decisions through an equity lens.  She will work closely with Executive Director of Leandro Implementation Dr. Beverly Emory to enact the recommendations of the WestEd report.

Jamey Falkenbury will join DPI as the director of government and community affairs. Falkenbury earned his undergraduate degree from Elon University in political science with a minor in public administration and later earned his MBA from The Citadel. He is the son of a reading specialist with more than 35 years of teaching experience, including in Cabarrus County, and the brother of a current public school history teacher in Rowan County, Falkenbury comes to DPI with more than decade of education policy experience both at the federal and state levels.

Dr. Derrick D. Jordan will join DPI as assistant superintendent of Agency Schools. A veteran educator, Jordan joins the team with over 20 years’ experience. Throughout this career, he has advocated for students from inside the classroom, prioritized teachers through his time as a principal, and supported a growing school district in serving as a senior-level administrator. As superintendent for Chatham County Schools since 2013, Derrick was recognized for his work and named Regional Superintendent of the Year for the Piedmont-Triad Region in 2018. Jordan is a part-time clinical associate professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education. He is a graduate of N.C. Central University, received his master of school administration from East Carolina University and later acquired his doctorate in educational leadership from UNC Chapel Hill. Jordan’s portfolio will include the N.C. Schools for the Deaf in Morganton and Wilson, the Lab Schools, the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, and the Innovative School District and alternative schools. 

Julie Pittman will join DPI as the special assistant to the superintendent: educator engagement. A 23-year educator, Pittman has been a high school English teacher in Rutherford County Schools since 2003 and was named the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Western Region N.C. Teacher of the Year. For the last two years, she has been a teacher on loan to No Kid Hungry, serving as the education outreach manager in North Carolina. She holds a master of arts degree from UNC Chapel Hill and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She serves as a Governor Cooper appointee to the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching Board of Trustees, is a member of the N.C. Hispanic/LatinX Action Coalition, and a board member of American Friends of the Bajio. Pittman has worked in rural and urban public school districts in the state to develop educator advocacy and teacher leadership opportunities. In this newly-created position, she will work to lift up the voices of educators as well as other education stakeholders, to the department as well as the legislature. Her weekly school visits will serve as a source of feedback from those who are serving our students daily. 

Blair Ellis Rhoades will join DPI as communications director. She is a communications and public relations professional with nearly a decade of experience working on high-profile political and communications campaigns. While working in Washington, D.C., she served as an on-record spokeswoman for elected officials, advised federal and state level officials on messaging and created strategic communication plans on public policy and issue advocacy matters. Rhoades is well-versed in message development, communications planning, rapid response and crisis management, media relations and earned-media strategies across digital and traditional platforms. She is a graduate of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC Chapel Hill and daughter of a public school teacher who retired after 31 years with the state. 

Dr. Robert Taylor will join DPI as the deputy superintendent of student and school advancement. Taylor began his 10th year as superintendent with the Bladen County School District in July and in 2018, he was awarded the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport Management Superintendent of the Year. Prior to his role with Bladen County, Taylor was the assistant superintendent for Clinton City Schools from 2003 to 2011. A 1990 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, he earned his bachelor’s degree in history and political science before earning a master of school administration from Fayetteville State University and later his doctorate in educational leadership in 2009. He is an active member on multiple boards within the state – serving on advisory councils at both FSU and UNC Pembroke. 

Kristie VanAuken will join DPI as the special assistant to the superintendent: workforce engagement. With more than two decades of leadership experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, VanAuken is a seasoned facilitator. Most recently as vice president of stakeholder engagement for Research Triangle Park (RTP), she connected blue chip companies to the foundation and to each other. She facilitated the Owners and Tenants Association and the Service District Advisory Committee, helping to attract new resources to support STEM education, diversity, communication and the environment. VanAuken was also the chief economic development representative for RTP.  She is a member of the PTSA Board at Panther Creek High School in Wake County, serving as their nomination chair and also serves on the board of the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce. VanAuken will focus on bolstering the connections between K-12 education and post-secondary pathways for students. She will liaise with businesses, community colleges, and MyFutureNC, the state’s workforce and education attainment goal.

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