I started as an educator in 1994 as a lateral entry science teacher. I majored in Biology and minored in Chemistry thinking that I wanted to do research. However, I learned quickly after doing research on macular degeneration at Duke upon my graduation that research was not for me. So, I began teaching at White Oak High School and taught Physics, Biology, and Physical Science. And, I loved being a teacher. One day I will return to teach high school.
Q: What’s new in the school system that someone living in Craven County might not know about if they didn’t have kids in the system?
There is a lot new to include two schools that are redesigning their structures and curriculum. These are Oaks Road Elementary School and Roger Bell Elementary School. For example, at Roger Bell Elementary we are excited to partner with the New Tech Network to provide a project and product-based learning environment for students focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and preparing our students to be ready for the creative problem solving that our world increasingly requires. In addition, our Board of Education has partnered with our Board of Commissioners to provide an iPad for every student in our middle and high schools in Craven County. We have heard a great deal of positive feedback particularly from students for putting these devices in their hands as a tool for learning. It’s important that our community understands that these are tools, and that they do not take the place of great teaching and the collaboration among students that helps us to build great citizens for our community.
Q: What are some of the things you and your staff are doing to overcome challenges you might have?
The greatest challenge that every public-school system has right now is our budget. And second to finances are the multiple choices that parents have now related to educating their children. We are working to align our financial and human resources toward the work of educating students at the highest levels. This has taken a lot of time and effort. In the last decade since the recession, public schools have seen significant decreases in operational funding. This has forced us to ensure that we are spending our money on the strategies, structures, and people that will help our students be the most successful graduates. That is what our community expects of us. If we do that, the challenge of choice will also be addressed.
Q: What were some of your highlights from this current school year?
The work our Board of Education is doing with our new strategic plan is about the most significant work I have been able to be a part of in my career. As part of that process of creating a new long-range strategic plan, our Board has convened a stakeholder group representing parents, community members, business leaders, elected officials, municipal and county leaders, and other interested persons to help us create a vision for Public Education in Craven County. This group of over 50 people will meet over six months (we have already had three meetings). Each time we meet there is an energy and engagement from these stakeholders about the work our public educators are doing that energizes me and it has energized our Board of Education. Our Public Education system is just that, it is about our public. Public education is foundational to our democracy and engaging with our community about what matters is about the most important work that we might hope to accomplish. Engaging our community to create a vision for public education will help us to align all of the work we do with our leaders, teachers and our students to further strengthen our school system.
Q: What’s coming down the educational pipeline from the state or the feds that our local residents, parents, and students might want to know about?
I think the biggest changes we see in education today are about how resources are being reallocated. Public education dollars are not always being provided for traditional public education anymore. Public education is tackling the tough issues of how these resource allocations are changing our schools. In addition, the different choices that families have for education for their children has had a significant impact as well. Craven County Schools are discussing how we can leverage choices within our system to create a stronger public education for every child. This is difficult work with complex questions for which we do not yet have all the answers. However, our Board is engaged with our community about these questions. We know that this engagement is going to help us chart a successful path forward.
Q: What do you say to people when you hear comments about there not being enough vocational training opportunities now compared to what there used to be 30 or 40 years ago?
Craven County Schools and Craven Community College have tremendous vocational opportunities for students. I include Craven Community College because we work very closely together to align the programs we have in our high schools with those that are offered at the Community College. We hear two distinct messages about vocation education in Craven County that we are trying to correct. One comment we often get is that because we do not have a separate vocational school that there is not vocational education. However, we have vocational training programs and opportunities in all of our high schools to include our two early colleges. These programs include Advanced Manufacturing, Animal Science, carpentry and cabinetmaking just to name a few. On the other hand, we also hear comments about programs that we may no longer offer or new programs that citizens do not necessarily associate with vocational education. An example of this is Scientific Visualization. This is a course and pathway that leads students to skilled trade careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Our career and technical education programs (what folks refer to as vocational training) have to be responsive to our economy and the jobs available for our students in Craven County and the region. Our Career and Technical Education Director, in collaboration with Craven Community College leaders, work to be very responsive to the job opportunities and training needs that come directly from our local industry and business partners. This allows the vocational programs we offer to lead directly to gainful employment for our graduates and helps to build a pipeline of local employees for the great businesses and industry in Craven County.
Q: You have been the superintendent in Craven County now for a few years. What do you love most about your job and how has your life changed?
Unequivocally, what I love about my job is this community. I have never been in a place where more people reach out on a daily basis to help one another be better and do better for every single citizen. This is a special place and you do not often see this level of engagement spanning from interested and caring citizens, to business and industry leaders, to elected officials who give so fully of their time and talents. This service mindset looks different from the West Craven area to Havelock. Craven County has three distinct areas with distinct personalities, but our county shares a common vision of service to our fellow man which has buoyed me on many days as we do the important work of providing a great public-school system for this community. Our citizens set a high standard of service. Our challenge is to ensure that we hold that same standard for our students as they move toward graduation.
My life changed significantly the summer I was appointed by the Board to be Superintendent of Craven County Schools when my daughter left for college. It is difficult to separate that change in my personal life from this change in my professional life. I am very proud of my daughter and with only one child, my husband, she, and I are very close. It was a huge transition for us not being able to drive her to school in the mornings, attend her high school soccer games, or take weekend trips to soccer tournaments. When she was in grade school, we spent a great deal of time together as a family around soccer and the amazing coaches and people who became our extended family as a result of that game. That change has been significant for my husband and me. So, it was good to have this job to keep me focused.
Q: What do you want someone who is new to Craven County, retired and never had a child in the Craven County Schools system to know about local schools?
Our local schools are important to our community and our democracy. Craven County public schools is a part of North Carolina’s constitutional commitment to providing a free public-school system designed to provide equal opportunities for all students to foster a strong state, economy, and community. We are the biggest economic development tool in the state’s and local community’s arsenal. A great school system helps to attract strong businesses to the area which create a vibrant and diverse economy and services for which every citizen takes advantage. Craven County Schools are full of amazing and committed educators who are bringing our democracy to life every day and help facilitate the realization of the American dream for our students.
I want folks to know that we are working hard to ensure that the resources we receive from the state and local government are being used to directly impact our students and their success. When we have great schools then our community benefits in every sector and for every person.
I also want to share with our new retirees that Craven County Schools has a wonderful volunteer program if one is seeking opportunities to get involved in the community. We have classrooms from elementary to high school that can utilize your skills and knowledge to help make a difference in the lives of our students and teachers. Volunteers are an essential part of our team and your passion, love, and guidance will contribute in making our schools spectacular.
Q: How are schools preparing students to be good future employees?
We are working hard on this area. As mentioned in the section about career and technical education, our partnership with local business and industry and the community college has helped us to focus in on the specific trades that our businesses need to grow their companies with employees who are also graduates of our school system. Going further, we are working to teach the important, but not always easily measured, skills of teamwork and collaboration, the habits of good employees to communicate effectively, be on time, and engage productively in work. Finally, the most important skill we are working to develop in our students is the ability to persist to solve problems for which there is no easy answer or not one right answer. This is probably one of the biggest challenges of our time. As society becomes increasingly complex and the problems we confront become more complex, we need graduates who are not afraid to tackle tough problems and will keep working when the problems are don’t have a defined answer. These are skills we are building in all of our classes, for students who will move to jobs after graduation, the military, or to college.