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Early starts, continued support helping students succeed

In the early years of a child’s life, so much growth and learning occurs — first steps, first words, learning to feed themselves, learning to read, and so many other milestones. And each step in that growth is the foundation for further progress.

The same is true of a child’s education. Each achievement leads toward the next one and helps that student build a foundation for further learning and skill development. That means it’s critical for education systems to provide students with the support they need in their earliest years of schooling — and to continue that support to help students seamlessly move all along their educational path and toward certifications, degrees, jobs and careers.

But instead of experiencing their journey as several steps along one lifelong path, many students often experience their education as finite chunks of time in several separate educational systems: pre-k, K-12, post-secondary education, and continuing education later in their careers and lives.

Each of these educational systems — while fairly successful — is also fairly self-contained. Each has its own system-specific data systems, rules and bureaucracies, metrics for student achievement, and so on.

These silos create confusion and make it difficult for students and their parents to navigate the gaps between the systems — and it is in these gaps where students, especially those from lower-income families, often decide not to take the next step in their educational journey.

To create seamless pathways for students, it takes true partnerships between educational systems that meet students where they are and guide them through the process to achieve their academic and life goals more quickly.

A great example of this is the work that is happening with the SandHoke Early College High School, a partnership between the Hoke County School System and Sandhills Community College. Students who take on a five-year plan of study can receive a high school diploma from Hoke County Schools and an Associate in Arts or Associate in Science degree from Sandhills.

These types of partnerships are how our state will succeed in educating all students and helping them find the best educational pathway that meets their needs and provide opportunities that will allow them to contribute back to their community.

The MyFutureNC Commission, a bipartisan group of members from across the state in the education, business, government, nonprofit and faith communities, is taking inspiration from initiatives across the state like SandHoke Early College.

The commission also aims to use the expertise and leadership, along with national and state research, to establish a collective statewide vision about North Carolina’s educational needs and how to best meet them.

That way, all our students have the support they need throughout their educational and employment journeys.

This is not just an effort to support students as individuals, but also a long-term strategy to better align a highly skilled and talented workforce with better opportunities to support and strengthen our communities’ economic growth.

By the end of this process, the commission plans to recommend:

  • A statewide goal for the number of North Carolinians who need education beyond high school.
  • The benchmarks needed to help students succeed along their journey — such as targets for kindergarten readiness, third-grade literacy, eighth-grade proficiency in reading and math, college readiness, and workforce alignment in critical areas.
  • The policy reforms and initiatives necessary to achieve these goals and targets.

To help inform its work, MyFutureNC is asking for input from students, parents, teachers, employers, political leaders and interested residents. Public listening sessions throughout the state, such as the one held this week at SCC, are one way the group is seeking feedback.

Additionally, an online survey — available at — is another way for people to share their thoughts.

We truly hope you will take time to participate in the survey. MyFutureNC wants to hear from all of us on what educational improvements are needed to maximize our area’s economic strengths, and to help our local students and communities truly thrive.

Editor’s note: This column was originally published by The Pilot. It has been posted with the publisher’s permission.

Dr. Freddie Williamson

Dr. Freddie Williamson is superintendent of Hoke County Schools since 2006. Williamson began his journey in public education as a classroom teacher. His experiences have included school administration for more than 25 years in various capacities, including vocational education, curriculum and human resources.

Dr. John Dempsey

Dr. John Dempsey has been president of Sandhills Community College since 1989. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and holds a master’s degree in Government from the College of William and Mary and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts. He is a Vietnam veteran, and he served in the Executive Office of the President during Jimmy Carter’s Administration.