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Building the future of rural North Carolina: One student, one school, one community at a time

We have embedded in Edgecombe County during the past six months, chronicling their struggles and successes. The area was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Matthew, and in the coming days we will be reporting on their recovery efforts. But we wanted to start the series by letting our readers get a sense for what the county is like, and how the community is working together to try and provide a high-quality education to all of their students.

Superintendent John Farrelly needed to “restore confidence in the entire school system.” He started with one school, Martin Millennium Academy (MMA), which he described as a “school on fire” with “horrific” rates of student achievement. He needed a proof point for his community, a place to plant a flag to show that the public schools could teach every child.

“I knew we needed to believe in something. And I believe in hope.”

– John Farrelly, Superintendent

This video underscores some of the changes at MMA as they undertake a global schools curriculum:

This is a longer video about the impact of MMA on the broader Tarboro community:

Farrelly told us that MMA is a place where the residents of Edgecombe County can see that “dreams come true.”

“Every kid deserves a shot.” – John Farrelly, Superintendent

Here is a brief story about the changes at MMA, which we have already published. Keep scrolling below the story for more on Edgecombe County.

Restoring pride in Tarboro

John Farrelly became the superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools in the summer of 2012 facing a host of challenges, including the withdrawal of nearly one out of every six students from the school system, which had impacts on funding, morale, and direction. Farrelly, and others in leadership, understood intuitively that they would need to be innovative in the face of challenges.

“The question for our district as we looked at other success stories was why not us?” – John Farrelly, Superintendent

MMA embraces the mission of student leaders who can bring about positive social change, creating a ripple effect by both building the next generation of civic leaders in Edgecombe County and sending those leaders out into the world. It starts with meeting the needs of the whole child. Other schools in the district have embraced the Leader In Me curriculum. Farrelly and his team believe in school-by-school strategic approaches as opposed to purely district-wide initiatives.

DCOn a Friday in April, Donnell Cannon, an EdNC board member, became the principal of North Edgecombe High School. A former teacher with TFA and a graduate of NELA, he asked us to pray for him. Even without our prayers, there is just no doubt his leadership will change the trajectory of his students, his school, and his community. We’ll be watching…and learning.






Inez and Robert Ribustello own the destination restaurant On the Square and a brewery called Tarboro Beverage Company. As many of their friends pulled their kids out of the public schools, this family stayed put, forcing other families to wrestle with the concept of “white flight.”

When students went on a field trip to visit a mosque, school administrators expected some push back from some families. There was none. District leaders credit a desire to see every child succeed with parental openness, alongside an approach emphasizing communication first.

Farrelly and his team have begun to put new leadership in across the district. Over and over they note that their emphasis is on student growth, because they believe firmly that achievement will follow growth.

They are optimistic, but remain grounded in the challenges ahead.


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.