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Educators focus on ‘Building Successful Models’ at N.C. Lab School Summit

“This year, we are welcoming scholars to our building and our staff is excited about the possibilities.”

Tracy Cole, principal of ECU Community School 

In preparation for the new school year, educators of the UNC System laboratory schools at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) to talk about learning models at the inaugural Lab School Summit. 

According to their website, NCCAT’s mission is “to advance teaching as an art and a profession.” The facilities offer instructional programs that cover a variety of topics related to development for educators. Jan King, the president of NC Peak Education, said NCCAT is a “one stop shop,” offering on campus housing, dining, makerspaces, a wellness center, and many other features that allow educators to be fully immersed in the development opportunity while on campus. 

In 2016, the General Assembly passed legislation establishing lab schools in North Carolina. According to the UNC System’s website, the system “selects universities that will utilize their Colleges of Education to establish and operate lab schools. The lab schools will then partner directly with local school districts to promote evidence-based teaching and school leadership, while offering real-world experience to the next generation of teachers and principals.”

The lab schools concentrate on offering an enhanced education program for students in low performing schools while providing high-quality teacher and principal training. Each school must “deliver high expectations to prepare students for college and life; ensure students learn to read and communicate effectively; address the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students; and harness the benefits of partnerships to strengthen learning, teaching, and school leadership.”

Originally, the legislation called for eight schools to be created, but an additional school has been added. Of the nine, six welcomed students in previous academic years, and three schools open to students this year. 

During the Lab School Summit, participants gathered with the focus of “Building Successful Models.” The summit consisted of various presentations, including a keynote address from Mariah Morris, director of K-12 literacy with the Orange County School District. Morris, the 2019 N.C. Teacher of the Year, spoke on “Daring to Dream, Learning to Fail, and Leading to Inspire.”

“Literacy is a human right”

Ambra Wilson, executive director of K-12 literacy with the Orange County School District

Morris also co-led a session with Ambra Wilson, executive director of K-12 literacy with the Orange County School District. They introduced their session with the statement “Literacy is a human right,” followed by a hands-on approach to explaining Scarborough’s Reading Rope, breaking down the components of skilled reading.  

The emphasis on literacy coincides with a law passed by the General Assembly in 2021. The law requires training for educators regarding the implementation of practices aligned with the science of reading. More specifically, Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training has been one element of addressing literacy throughout the state. 

“We have a heavy focus on literacy because we believe that when teaching children how to read, they can apply this to all the disciplines that cross their path,” Tracy Cole, the principal at ECU Community School, said.

Later in the summit, EducationNC reporter Rupen Fofaria spoke about how “Experience Tells the Story.” Fofaria, a learning differences and equity reporter, concluded his speech by asking educators to be intentional about crafting and sharing stories centered on their direct experience in the school building.

At the summit, what was consistent among the stories shared about the lab schools is the excitement expressed around putting practice into action and the continued growth of the partnerships between the universities and school districts.

“It’s been great to be at the Lab Schools Summit, yesterday and today, to have a chance to see all nine labs schools represented in the UNC system, to actually talk with people, to hear exchanges of ideas, and to feel the same excitement that we’re feeling down at ECU.” 

Tracy Cole, principal of ECU Community School 
Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.