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Freebird McKinney, Burlington high school teacher, named state teacher of the year

Freebird McKinney, a social studies teacher at Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, was named the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced the award given to McKinney out of nine regional finalists from across the state.

McKinney succeeds Lisa Godwin, the 2017 winner and a kindergarten teacher at Dixon Elementary School in Onslow County.

“This teacher feels that a teachers’ job is to encourage curiosity and teach students to never stop learning,” said Johnson of McKinney. “This person believes that education’s true purpose is not to simply produce better human beings, but to produce conscious, conscientious, compassionate, civic-minded, and contributing citizens for one’s community.”

McKinney is a self-described “village teacher,” a reflection of his dedication to reaching beyond the classroom and encouraging engaged citizenship among his students.

“One of the most important things we do as teachers is to extend a call of adventure to our students. Steve Maraboli said it best: ‘If you are not a hero of your own story, then you are missing the whole point of humanity,'” said McKinney. “Our job is to help our students on the path as our teachers did for us. Educators — you are our village teachers — you guide us to answer the call.”

McKinney poses with his certificate after being named the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year. Analisa Sorrells/EducationNC

McKinney has been an educator for 13 years, teaching at Williams High School for the past three years and working as an adjunct professor at Elon University. Previously, McKinney was a teacher at Eastern Guilford High School and Grimsley High School in Greensboro.

Governor Cooper congratulated the finalists and thanked them for their dedication to the state’s children and families.

“Those students will remember you as they grow up, and you will have made a difference in their life. As you work, and grind, and prepare those lesson plans, and do all the things that you do every single day, just remember all of the lives that you’re going to touch and the difference you’re going to make,” said Cooper. “They will remember you. I remember mine.”

Cooper also discussed plans to invest more in school safety in light of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., noting the details of his recently-released school safety budget proposal.

“The only guns that should be on the school grounds should be guns held by sworn law enforcement officers,” said Cooper.

As the Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year, McKinney will spend the next school year traveling the state as an ambassador of the teaching profession. Through Go Global NC, McKinney will have the opportunity to study abroad in Mexico. He will also serve as an advisor to the State Board of Education for two years and as a board member for the NC Public School Forum for one year.

Editor’s Note: The Burroughs Wellcome Fund supports EducationNC.

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.