I teach in North Carolina, and one of the things I love most about our state is our motto, “To be rather than to seem.” Still, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised to see this value at work than I was on a recent visit to my state’s Department of Public Instruction.
At the request of State Board of Education (SBE) Chairman Bill Harrison, I visited with the SBE and spoke on a panel of three teachers on March 2. I was impressed to be among a group of professionals who are as committed to the education of our children as I have ever seen.
The following day, when I met their leader, Bev Perdue, I continued to be impressed.
Governor Perdue, who has a doctoral degree in educational administration and is a former Florida public school teacher, lost no time reminding the Board why they are in business. “Every child deserves a really great teacher and every school deserves a really great principal,” she stated firmly. “That is your job.”
Almost everyone I met at DPI lamented the tough times in store for NC education these days with the potential for draconian cuts to important programs. Yet Governor Perdue cautioned them not to use the current political environment as an excuse for not delivering a 21st Century education. “Our budget can’t give us cover for retreating from our most important objective—educating our students,” she said. And then she repeated, “That is your job.”
Shortly before addressing the Board, the Governor accepted a $24,000 check from AT&T to help fund her initiative to survey student learning conditions. Earlier, Dr. Glenn Kleiman, of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University, had presented preliminary findings from the survey, which is in its second of multiple phases. Phase II included surveying and interviewing more than 14,000 7th, 9th, and 11th graders from 11 districts and 89 schools to find out how effective schools were meeting students’ needs for academic engagement, social engagement, 21st Century skills, a safe and caring environment, and effective use of technology.
Perdue described the findings of the survey as “remarkably important,” and in the same league as a similar state-wide study of teacher learning conditions, which she credits with “changing the dialog” around teacher support. She urged educators to pay attention to what students are saying about their education. “Your work requires you to stand up and make courageous decisions for the children,” she reminded them. “The history of North Carolina is still being written, and this chapter is ours.”
Seems to me, Governor Perdue means it.