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The Belk Foundation brings leaders together, fostering civic dialogue and innovation

Last night, The Belk Foundation convened education leaders in Raleigh from school districts, nonprofits, state government, and philanthropy to think about education in North Carolina and across the nation. “We must be innovative in North Carolina for the sake of our students,” said Johanna Edens Anderson, executive director of The Belk Foundation.

John Belk, chair of the board of The Belk Foundation, kicked off the evening, noting the need to focus on “where we are leading in North Carolina, and where we have opportunities to improve.”

The purpose of the convening, according to The Belk Foundation, was to:

Spotlight the great work being done in North Carolina in education, but also highlight where we are lagging behind and where we should look to improve,

Convene and make connections among leaders who can create sustainable change for students across North Carolina, and 

Raise awareness of the Charlotte-based Belk Foundation across North Carolina and in Raleigh, as a grantmaker and advocate focused on K-3 achievement and excellent teachers and leaders.

The evening featured Jeremy Anderson, president of Education Commission of the States, a national education policy organization that serves as a partner to state policymakers, and then responses from leaders across North Carolina, including Jennifer Haygood, Acting President, NC Community College System; Mark Johnson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Janet Mason, 2018 NC Superintendent of the Year, Rutherford County Schools; and Margaret Spellings, President, University of North Carolina.

“At ECS, we truly believe in the power of learning from experience,” said Anderson.

Anderson works with state leaders — from governors to chief state school officers, from both political parties — to provide unbiased information, support, and opportunities for collaboration. In his remarks, he urged North Carolina’s leaders to find an issue they could work on together to improve outcomes for all students, trying to “breakdown silos, partisan politics, and territorial issues.”

Anderson noted the multitude of commissions working on different issues in North Carolina.

“The question that I have for you though,” Anderson said, “comes down to a little bit of governance. How many of those commissions or task forces are talking to each other?… Where is the umbrella oversight to unify these kind of things and make it work?”

Anderson said in his work across the nation he has noticed that in states where “leaps and bounds” are being made, leaders have found ways to work across difference. “It’s a simple litmus test,” he said. “Can the people who can move this policy meet for coffee even if they disagree and talk though some of these differences?” 

Anderson asked the panelists to identify an innovative policy they thought could make a difference in student outcomes. Superintendent Johnson discussed the need for all students to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and also the ongoing operational assessment of the Department of Public Instruction. President Spellings noted the need for “an accountability continuum.” President Haygood said work-based learning opportunities matter. Superintendent Mason highlighted the need to reconsider North Carolina’s compulsory attendance age of 16 (instead of 18).

Anderson also pushed the panelists to identify one difference they thought could be made in two years. They highlighted career pathways, school safety, and the need to ensure credit is awarded for prior student learning.

President Spellings concluded, “Let’s get organized for success.” 

What are your priorities and what innovative policies do you think could make a difference for students? We want to know.

Editor’s Note: The Belk Foundation is a Charlotte-based family foundation that supports public education by strengthening teachers and school leaders, and ensuring that students are achieving on or above grade level by the third grade. Now in its fourth generation of family leadership, The Belk Foundation serves as the public expression of gratitude and commitment shown by the family that created the Belk department store organization. The Belk Foundation had assets of more than $52 million as of September 30, 2017. Since 2000, The Belk Foundation has invested more than $46 million in our state. The Belk Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.