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Every child, every chance, every day: A spotlight on district leadership

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Meet Tanya Turner, the superintendent of the Perquimans County School System, known locally as PQ Schools.

Mebane Rash/EducationNC

The district includes four schools: Perquimans Central Elementary, Hertford Grammar, Elementary, Perquimans Middle School, and Perquimans High School.

“I don’t believe you will find a better school system than Perquimans County,” she said recently when she met with business leaders visiting all 100 counties.

The district is the largest employer in the county with a $25 million budget.

What struck me about Turner’s leadership was all of the ways she strives to exceed expectations to garner community support.

The character of leadership

Turner is a product of PQ Schools, and she came back home to start her teaching career. She calls it a blessing that she now has the opportunity to serve as superintendent.

“This is true,” she said, “of many of our employees as well. That says a lot about this community and this school system.”

In 2019, when she started serving as superintendent, the district adopted the motto of “every child, every chance, every day” — a motto she says has been embraced by the district, the parents, and the community.

“It embodies what we all should be about as educators,” she said. “Each one of us is a servant leader and our why is obviously our students.”

Last year, Turner asked the district to take on an additional challenge she calls “be the one that makes a difference.”

“Every child deserves a champion,” said Turner. “We believe that we should be that champion for our students.”

A unified, united K-12 experience

This year, Turner is asking the district and the community to take the next step and “be one school together.”

“Our seniors,” said Turner, “don’t become successful just because of what happens from the ninth grade year to their senior year. It starts at home and then continues when they enter our doors as pre-K or kindergarten students.”

“Each year,” Turner continues, “another layer is added to the foundation that will support the student’s future. Each layer is important and necessary for our students to be successful.”

Turner said PQ Schools will be embracing the Portrait of a Graduate competencies from kindergarten through graduation “to ensure our students are equipped to be successful at the next level whatever that may be.”

On academics

From learning to read…

“The transformation is real,” Perquimans Central Elementary Principal Tracy Gregory said in prior reporting by EdNC on the implementation of the science of reading in the district.

Turner said, “We are one semester from completing LETRS training in our district, and we have definitely reaped the benefits. This year, our data shows that we exceeded the state average in grades K, one, and two in proficiency, and our students’ growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year was phenomenal.”

… through graduation

“Our graduation rate was 89.1%,” said Turner.

More importantly, she said, “The graduating class of 2023 was awarded over $1.2 million in scholarships. Our students submitted a total of 321 college applications and received 266 acceptance letters.”

“That is an 83% acceptance rate,” Turner said, beaming.

She said 71% of the seniors were bound for college, trade, or technical school, with 23% moving straight into careers, 2% enlisting in the military, and just 3% undecided.

Students as digital consumers regardless of age

Whether students are just learning to read in kindergarten or assessing their options in their senior year, Turner sees it as the district’s responsibility “to teach students how to be responsible digital consumers.”

PQ Schools provides students with 1:1 technology through Chromebooks issued to each student in K-12. Turner said the district also provides families without internet access to a hotspot to bridge the digital divide.

Turner stressed the importance of these skills if students are going to graduate and “be competitive in a global economy.”

Beyond academics

Career and technical education (CTE) pathways, Turner said, offer students the opportunity to learn about agriculture through an animal science lab, horticulture, hydroponics, and agricultural mechanics, which is important for this rural county.

Students can also explore skilled trades like construction and advanced manufacturing in partnership with the local community college, the College of the Albemarle.

“The health science and family and consumer science courses develop a pipeline of talent for jobs in these high-demand, high-skilled careers,” Turner said.

And fire tech courses are offered at the high school so that students in PQ Schools have the opportunity to enter the workforce as a firefighter.

The district offers a cultural arts program to students with theater, marching band, concert band, and winter guard. “The winter guard team ended the season,” said Turner, “as gold medalists.”

Middle and high school students participate in a variety of clubs and extracurricular activities, Turner said. “We are proud to be recognized as a National Beta Club School of Distinction,” she said.

Excelling athletically

Turner is the district’s chief cheerleader, and she easily shares pride points across the district’s athletic teams.

Last year, our volleyball team were state runners up.

Two years prior, our baseball team were back-t0-back state champions.

Our football team made it to the third round of state playoffs.

Our women and men’s soccer teams were also conference champions.

Our women’s basketball team made it to the 3rd round of the women’s basketball state playoffs and were also the conference champs.

Our track team was well represented at the state level with our girls 4×100 relay finishing second in the state for the second year in a row.

Superintendent Tanya Turner, PQ Schools

As proud as Turner is of her student athletes, she is proud of the community for investing in the district’s athletic facilities.

A new track and soccer field will open this fall. Renovations on the softball field include a brand new concession stand and a press box behind home plate, she said.

“The beautiful athletic facilities that you see,” she said, “are largely the result of community donors and not school system dollars.”

Exceling nutritionally

Kim Cullipher became the school nutrition director for PQ Schools one week before the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March 2020. 

Mebane Rash/EducationNC

Turner said Cullipher took a very good child nutrition program and transformed it into a great one.

Leaders from around the state visit PQ Schools to learn about this nutrition program — from how they market school meals, to building excitement for child nutrition, to serving farm to table options to students. Take a look…

“Cullipher and her team take pride in the work they do, they love the students, and it shows,” said Turner. “I am thankful for the heart she has for our students and our community.”

It takes a team

“I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale, quoted by Superintendent Tanya Turner

Under Turner’s leadership, teacher turnover has decreased from 20.54% in 2018 to 2.68% in 2021. Let that sink in.

“Right now,” she said, “We are fully staffed K-8 and have only a few vacancies at the high school, which are all covered with either retired teachers or teachers who are teaching through their planning period to ensure out students receive quality face-to-face instruction.”

PQ Schools has been designated a National Board Accomplished District for the past three years.

This school district offers open enrollment, attracting students and their families from surrounding counties.

“None of this happened by chance,” said Turner. “This happened because of the intentional and purposeful focus of our Perquimans County Schools staff, the hard work of our students, and the supports of our parents and community.”

Mebane Rash

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