When I first proposed moving from New York to North Carolina fourteen years ago to accept a teaching position in the Wake County Public School System, my friends and family were mortified. You see, we didn’t know anyone who lived below the Mason/Dixon line and had only been exposed to the South through stereotypes.

Of particular concern were the quality of southern schools. Convinced that Andy and Opie were real citizens of the Old North State, my friends teased me mercilessly. “Hope you speak Red-neck,” they’d say. “Want to borrow my Jeff Foxworthy CD?” Most were convinced that I’d be throwing away my career working in a place that they described as “backwards.”

It wasn’t long, however, until I realized that North Carolina is anything but backwards when it comes to education. Under the leadership of former Governor Jim Hunt and current Governor Mike Easley, our state is regularly recognized as a progressive national leader with innovative plans that are modeled across the country.

Three of my favorite current initatives are:

The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey: The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey is being used to make informed decisions about teacher professional development, school leadership and the time we have available to teach. It is a tool that gives educators an opportunity to speak up about the strengths and weaknesses in our profession and is incredibly meaningful because it puts numbers behind the reality of our work. The survey has since spread from North Carolina to several other states.

To learn more about the Teacher Working Conditions initiative, visit: http://www.northcarolinatwc.org/

Learn and Earn Program: Governor Easley has helped to redefine high school education with his “Learn and Earn” initiative which addresses dropout rates by allowing students to work through a five year program that prepares them for work in emerging industries while earning a high school diploma and an Associates degree at the same time. This program ensures that students who do not plan to pursue a four-year degree have the kinds of skills necessary for higher paying work.

To learn more about Learn and Earn, visit: http://www.governor.state.nc.us/News_FullStory.asp?id=1352

Earn Scholarships: Governor Easley paired the “Learn and Earn” program with a proposal for an “Earn” scholarship program that would provide students from low and moderate income families with a free college education. By pairing the Associate degree available through Learn and Earn high schools with two year grants from the state, students can complete their bachelor’s degree debt free. The structured and staged approach to higher education is really pretty innovative and has potential to increase the quality of life for students who may have otherwise been denied a professional future.

To learn more about the Earn Scholarships, visit: http://snipurl.com/1k456

Needless to say, I’m pretty proud of the work that we’re doing here in North Carolina!

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