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Convocation keynoter recruits 'educator diplomats'

Two weeks from opening the doors of their classrooms for the 2019-2020 school year, public school teachers in Lenoir County were reminded by one of the state’s top teachers that the success they have in those classrooms will reverberate through our communities and our state.

Freebird McKiney holds microphone Freebird McKinney, the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina teacher of the year, keynoted LCPS’s opening day convocation at Grainger Stadium on Monday, telling more than 1,100 school district employees – including more than 700 teachers and school administrators – that they are “educator diplomats” fighting for a cause.

“I’m in awe,” he said, “of what we’re doing across the state to transcend the barriers of society, to serve our students and their families in the protection of a sound and basic education that’s guaranteed in our state constitution.”

A social studies teacher at Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, McKinney teaches world and European history and is co-coordinator of his school’s International Baccalaureate Pathway Program. He is entering his 15th year in the classroom.

His speech highlighted the first district-wide convocation LCPS has held in years, as the district opted instead in recent years for visits by the superintendent and his leadership team to individual schools. Those visits will continue this year, Superintendent Brent Williams has said, but the convocation served as a “pep rally” for all district employees on the first day back for teachers.

On hand to welcome teachers back and extend wishes for a successful school year were state Sen. James Perry and state Rep. Chris Humphrey. Also on hand were representatives of city and county government and members of the Lenoir County Board of Education.

Superintendent Williams offered his own welcome but took the opportunity to remind LCPS employees of the momentum they bring into the 2019-2020 school year.

“We’ve had three consecutive years of improvement. That’s a lot of hard work, so let’s give yourselves a hand,” he said.

Among achievements he cited were higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, steady improvement in students’ academic growth, a high percentage of high school students taking college courses, a robust digital learning program and a computer coding curriculum unparalleled in the region and sharply declining student suspensions. Last school year, LCPS could boast the Southeast Region Principal of the Year in E.B. Frink’s Elizabeth Pierce, the SNA Cafeteria Manager of the Year for North Carolina in North Lenoir’s Ada Hood and the state’s No. 1 migrant program, as designated by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“Lenoir County Public Schools is distinguishing itself,” Williams said to his employees. “You are distinguishing yourselves.”

But there’s no time for “educator diplomats” to rest on their laurels as “we continue to fight for each and every student’s access to a just and equitable sound and basic education,” McKinney said in his remarks.

“I ask that you join as we continue to change the narrative of our profession for our students and our families and our communities through this movement,” he told LCPS teachers. “We believe that each of us has the power to be a lighthouse for our individual community and collaboratively and collectively share this spirit in building bridges that are necessary across this state.”