In June 2009, we got married. Our honeymoon was spent checking and re-checking email to ensure funding would be approved for our big idea: Henderson Collegiate Charter School. We eventually opened in 2010 with 100 fourth-graders, no name power, little collateral, and zero credit history. We got turned down to rent a copy machine by a local business.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
This quote from the novel, The Alchemist, is a favorite. It also begins to illustrate our journey and collective work in Vance County. We came to this area in the summer of 2002 as Teach For America corps members, teaching at Pinkston Street Elementary and Eaton-Johnson Middle School, respectively. We loved our students, our schools, and the community. Most of all we knew then what we are acting on now, and that’s the reality that students here have unlimited potential when provided the opportunity to realize it.
Fast forward eight years from our first class of 100 students: Henderson Collegiate now operates three campuses on 40 acres of land, has more than 600 students in grades K-12, the high school is ranked in the top 3 percent of all schools across North Carolina, and more than 70 percent of students meet state standards for being college- and career-ready on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests.
Part of what attracted us to this work in 2002 was a desire to challenge the status quo; we still share this desire. Moreover, we were and remain confident all children, when provided opportunity, could challenge the status quo themselves. Our experiences in the classroom and what we see at Henderson Collegiate are proof points that the dogmatic view which suggests zip code or income is destiny is simply untrue.
None of this progress has been achieved alone. We are, without a doubt, proud of the students, families, and partners who have bought into what some believed was impossible: that we can reimagine our education system and drastically improve opportunity for young people in lower-income and/or rural communities. We are also particularly proud of the leadership team at Henderson, the overwhelming majority of which—over 90 percent of our 30-person team–has served in leadership roles throughout our school’s history. There are multiple, maybe 100 reasons for student success in our community, but the strong, consistent leadership of this diverse group is undoubtedly number one on the list.
Leaders develop leaders and across the Henderson campuses we model the motto: “Hungry. Humble. And Smart.” Our team of leaders is hungry and seems to have a limitless motor chugging towards excellence and equity. The culture across our campuses is grounded in humility and a universal understanding that feedback makes us all better. And of course, the teachers and administrators working with our kids are smart–not just book smart–but smart in their tenacity towards collaborative opportunities and their mindfulness towards building an environment where all of us strive together. And of course, we seek to mirror these qualities for our students so that they can take greater ownership of their learning and life trajectory.
Together, teachers, staff, and everyone in and around Henderson Collegiate conspire to advance excellence and equity. They are the ones who consistently transform hopes into realities. We still have plenty of learning, adapting, and re-equipping to do in Vance County but the progress we have seen strengthens our belief we can and will continue to deepen our impact with students and families and redefine what is possible for lower-income, rural children in our community.