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Ann Goodnight declared ‘North Carolina’s No. 1 citizen and leader for education for all time to come’

Last night, the Public School Forum of North Carolina convened “our education family” to honor Ann Goodnight with the Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award.

I knew Jay Robinson. He was my superintendent in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools when I was growing up. “One of our state’s most distinguished education leaders,” the gala program says, Robinson over his 50-year career was a teacher, principal, superintendent, and then vice president for public affairs and special projects for the UNC system. But above all, Robinson cared about students. You could tell by how he talked with us.

SAS and the Goodnight Educational Foundation have supported EdNC from the very beginning, and it has been my honor to get to know Ann Goodnight. Like Robinson, you can tell she cares about students, teachers, and school leaders by how she talks with them.

Governor Jim Hunt said at the gala, “Ann Goodnight has been out there on the front lines.” Sometimes, she is way out front. In June 2016, I visited schools in Union County with Goodnight. Dr. Mary Ellis, then the superintendent, had an idea to “shift the whole mindset of teacher education.” She wondered what it would look like if professors from UNCC’s College of Education created a master’s program for teachers in Union County, delivered in their classrooms, tailored to their students. Goodnight invested. But she didn’t just invest. She visited the classrooms. She talked with the teachers. She learned from them. She connected philanthropy to policy to practice.

In his remarks about Goodnight, Governor Hunt declared her “North Carolina’s No. 1 citizen and leader for education for all time to come.” 

“She is one of my heroes. She is one of a lot of people’s heroes.” Katie Morris, Belk Foundation Board of Directors

At the gala held in Raleigh, Goodnight was honored by Lucero “Lucy” Galván, a project management analyst at IQVIA and Goodnight Scholar alumni; UNC President Margaret Spellings; and then Governor Hunt.

“You see, given the liberty and opportunity to study at a four-year university was a game changer for my family and I,” said Galván, the Goodnight Scholar. “Without even knowing my name, without knowing anything about me, you believed in me.” Galván continued, “Behind every student or every person, there is a village. And you, Mrs. Goodnight, you are a tribal leader.”

“Ann has always been a champion and tireless advocate for education in North Carolina. She understands that education is the key to lifting children out of poverty and the economic engine to drive our state and country forward.” Jim Goodnight, CEO, SAS

UNC President Margaret Spellings said, “I know well the value of having someone like Ann in the trenches with you.” Spellings continued, “It takes leadership to move a state forward. Progress in North Carolina requires coalition building. It requires staying power. It requires people who can command respect from every corner, every sector, and every level.”

“[Ann] knows that progress in pockets isn’t good enough. That changing systems is what will give every child a better life,” concluded Spellings.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any significant public-private education endeavor in this state that doesn’t have Ann Goodnight’s name attached to it. Ann Goodnight loves North Carolina and you can’t love this state without believing in the power of education.” Keith Poston, Public School Forum of North Carolina

Governor Hunt said, “Every time we have made steps in education, the Goodnights have been there.” He continued, “I was honored, honored to be a friend and co-worker, and to learn from her as we all have.”

“Ann leads with grace and conviction — a rare and powerful combination that I for one aspire to.” Tracy Zimmerman, North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation

In accepting the award, Goodnight said, “Today we recognize that being equal is not enough. Equality is fairness. Equity is giving everyone what they need to succeed. When we think about educational equity for North Carolina public school students, we must strive to ensure every child has the opportunity and supports to realize his or her full potential.” She continued, “It is unacceptable to allow a child’s success to be determined by race, socioeconomic status, or zip code. We must infuse equity into a comprehensive education continuum that ensures all students, rural and urban, can achieve their full academic potential.”

“In sum,” concluded Goodnight, “education is the best path out of poverty. Recognizing the barriers created by poverty and race and making a commitment to take action to provide that sound, basic education for all our children is our collective responsibility and their constitutional right. To have high expectations for every child and a deep understanding of equity and inclusion is the ultimate test of who are are and what we value as a society.”

On my way into the gala, I met Alex Ambriz, another Goodnight Scholar. He just transferred to N.C. State from Wayne Community College. “I’m here to show my appreciation for what Ann Goodnight did for me,” he said.

Ambriz’s family is from La Cañada in Michoacán, Mexico. He grew up in Seven Springs, a small town in Wayne County. “I didn’t really think I could go to N.C. State when I graduated from high school,” he said. 

Now studying mechanical engineering, Ambriz wanted to “do something I love but also help my community.” He plans to go back to Wayne County after graduation and use his degree to help with the changing agricultural industry.

That’s why, as Governor Hunt declared, Goodnight will be our No. 1 citizen and leader in education for all time to come. Her investments, her priorities, her commitment, and her kindness will live on in all of the students and all of the advocates who see her as their tribal leader.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.