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From village teacher to bridge builder, Freebird McKinney takes on State Board role

On Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, the news broke that Freebird McKinney, the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year, will be the State Board of Education’s Director of Legislative Affairs and Community Outreach.

Appropriate that it was on Valentine’s Day given how much love McKinney has for our students, our schools, and our state — check out his Facebook page if you don’t believe me.

Eric Davis, the chair of the State Board, said, “Mr. McKinney brings a wealth of experience, skills, and passion as a teacher, teacher leader, SBE advisor, and public school advocate to this important role building bridges across our state. We look forward to Mr. McKinney’s leadership in advancing our partnership with the General Assembly and other stakeholders.”

Before McKinney became the state’s teacher of the year, he taught social studies at Walter M. Williams High School in the Alamance-Burlington School System. He was in the classroom for 13 years. More recently, he served as his district’s coordinator for community outreach.

Cecilia Holden, now the president and CEO of myFutureNC, formerly served in the position McKinney is taking on.

McKinney is known for building bridges in classrooms and schools, with students and teachers, with school and community leaders, with policymakers in the governor’s office and the legislature and the Department of Public Instruction.

When he became the state’s teacher of the year, Superintendent Mark Johnson said 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’s life paved the way for his calling to be a “village teacher.”

“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.”

In McKinney’s Facebook post about his new role, you can see him move from village teacher to bridge builder. Click “see more” to read the whole post.

Rob Jackson, superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Schools, posted on Facebook, “This is the perfect place for your passion, for your fit, and for your service. We will all be better because of the bridges you build and maintain.”

Tabari Wallace, the 2018 NC Principal of the Year, posted, “I have watched you in your relentless pursuit to build bridges even when others doubted, you still led from the heart and never gave up. Freebird McKinney believes the promise contained in the State Constitution and I know you will not stop until all the tenets guaranteed are all accomplished!”

It turns out Alli Lindenberg, EdNC’s engagement specialist, was McKinney’s student once upon a time. We didn’t know that when we hired her!

When she heard about McKinney’s new position, she wrote to me:

“I remember being a shy 16-year-old sitting in Freebird McKinney’s classroom at Grimsley High School. I grew in so many ways I was almost unrecognizable to myself by the end of the year. I still carry the lessons I learned in that classroom almost a decade ago.

Freebird guided and witnessed my growth that year and many years to follow, just as he has done with so many students in North Carolina.

Now all of us get to witness his journey from passionate classroom teacher to state leader in education. I am excited to see all of the lives he will touch in this new role.”

More than a few people will be praying for McKinney.

After the state teacher of the year finishes their year of service, EducationNC invites them to sit on our board of directors. McKinney has been with us for two years. He will rotate off our board on June 30, 2020. Until then, when we are covering him, expect to see an editor’s note reminding you of his organizational role with us.

Mebane Rash

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