State school superintendent Mark Johnson found the innovation he was looking for when he toured an LCPS school where a unique summer school program and a popular STEM camp were operating simultaneously.
Johnson, who took over as the elected head of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in January, is visiting public school districts throughout the state on what is called the N.C. Education & Innovation Tour. His two-hour stop at Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School was his first visit to Lenoir County since taking office.
“I’m on a statewide listening tour, going around the entire state looking for innovation in our schools that really help move the needle for our students, that help them grow during the summer or to catch up when they are falling behind,” Johnson told reporters.
The Teach for America Summer School at CSS fits that description. About 300 elementary-age students attended the academic camp for four days a week from mid-June until Thursday, the last day of summer school. While they learned, so did their teachers – about 45 corps members, in Teach For America parlance, who received intense instruction in education pedagogy from master teachers and many hours of experience in front of a class.
“We heard about this program in Kinston where it’s not just Teach for America, it’s Teach for America teaming up with the public school system,” the state superintendent said. “Both are coming together to combine forces, saying we can move students over the summer, we can fight summer brain drain and even more so we can prepare students to walk into their next grade level ready to succeed. I’m very excited to see the great success going on here.”
Accompanied by LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams and Andrew Lakis, executive director of Teach for America-Eastern North Carolina, Johnson visited four TFA classrooms as well as a robotics camp and other programs that make up LCPS Summer STEM Camps, which also operates at CSS.
Earlier, Johnson received background on the district and its summer programs from Williams and on TFA Summer School from Caty Gray Urquhart, director of residency elementary programming with Teach for America in North Carolina.
This is the second summer Teach for America has set up a regional training center in Lenoir County. The corps members who train here as teachers will disperse next week into communities in 14 eastern North Carolina counties, where they will teach for a minimum of two years. Six of the new teachers will join LCPS.
Johnson is more familiar than most visitors with Teach for America. A former corps member himself, he taught ninth grade science in a Charlotte high school for two years and remembered the difficulty of reaching students who didn’t have enough food to eat or had scant support at home.
“Students here at summer camp are coming in with the same challenges, but they can succeed,” he said. “With the help of this program they will succeed; and that’s really where my passions lies, making sure that no matter where students are coming from, no matter what their background, that they are able to go to school, work hard and reach their American dream. It is our job to make sure that’s a possibility.”