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NCAE launches ‘We Heart NC Public Schools’ tour

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) recently launched a new project called the We Heart NC Public Schools Tour. Over five months, NCAE will travel by RV to all 100 counties. The official launch for the tour took place on Saturday, Jan. 23 in Durham. Dozens of public school teachers and advocates gathered in the parking lot of Hillside High School for the event.

Graphic by Reilly Finnegan for NCAE

Tamika Kelly, the current president of NCAE, opened the event with some remarks. 

“For each stop, for each county, for each educator, parent, student and community member we get to talk to, we will uplift the voices that share the richness of public education and the beauty of our state. Not only in the scenes and the miles in between each story, but the beauty and the people that we see,” Kelly said. 

NCAE President Tamika Kelly at the We Heart Public Schools Tour kickoff event in Durham. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

Bryan Proffitt, vice president of the organization, also spoke to the crowd of educators. 

“Y’all are out here because you know that our public schools are the center of our communities and then if we’re going to have strong and healthy and safe communities, we need to have strong and healthy and safe public schools,” Proffitt said.

Free books for educators and families at the We Heart Public Schools Tour kickoff event in Durham. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

Why Durham?

There were many options to choose from for the launch of the tour. When it came down to it, the tour organizers chose Durham for a few reasons. One of those is the strength of the local NCAE chapter in Durham, called the Durham Association of Educators (DCAE). There has been a strong NCAE presence in Durham for decades. A second reason was the option of holding the inaugural event at Hillside High School.

Educators gather at Hillside High School for NCAE’s We Heart Public Schools Tour kickoff event. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

Hillside is a historic high school. It is one of three historically Black high schools that survived the state’s integration efforts in the 50s and 60s. Michelle Burton, the current president of DCAE, also has a personal connection to the school, which made the choice for the kickoff event that much easier.

“My grandmother and her brothers and sisters grew up in rural homes, and there were no Black high schools. So my great grandparents, their oldest son, he lived with boarders and he graduated from Hillside in 1927,” Burton said.

Proffitt also used to teach at Hillside High School. John Lucas Sr., a former principal of Hillside, was also a state education leader with NCAE. All that to say, the ties between Hillside High School and NCAE span decades.

The road ahead

The tour plans to visit all 100 counties in the next five months. After Durham, the RV headed to Vance County on Jan. 25.

“It’s a big state and we have thousands and thousands of members and, you know, people are not numbers,” Burton said.

The team is most excited to hear people’s stories and connect with teachers on the ground across the state.

To keep up with the tour, you can follow @NCAE on Twitter and @NCAEPICS on Instagram.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.