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Perspective | Building relationships through Bring Your Legislator to School Day

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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the April 20, 2024 episode about the second annual Bring Your Legislator to School Day.

As in many other states, state-level elected officials in North Carolina play a crucial role in shaping policies that affect communities at large, particularly when it comes to public education. Establishing strong relationships between these officials and the communities they serve is invaluable to fostering collaboration, ensuring transparency and considering diverse perspectives when crafting policies.

Bring Your Legislator to School Day was introduced as a way to nurture such relationships between schools and policymakers by allowing those policymakers to experience the day-to-day reality of North Carolina’s elementary and secondary schools. 

This year during the second annual Bring Your Legislator to School Day, 69 school districts and over 65 legislators took part in making the event a statewide success. This increased participation from last year demonstrates that this event has been a positive experience for both districts and legislators and has the potential to continue to grow.

It is my hope that Bring Your Legislator can reach a point where it’s a regular annual addition to the calendars of each school district in the state and North Carolina General Assembly member because the connections built at such an event are tremendously valuable to continuing to enhance learning environments for children across our state and their communities.

During their visits, legislators engaged in walk-throughs of schools with principals and superintendents and had conversations with teachers, students, and parents to gain a better understanding of what is working well for students and educators as well as the challenges they face.

These visits allow legislators to get an honest look at what current state investment in education looks like in practice. With North Carolina’s diverse range of communities this can look vastly different from district to district, but engaging with school communities gives legislators the chance to gather first-hand insights on local issues such as resource allocation, teacher shortages, and other factors which can inform more effective and targeted policy decisions.

Education policy should be aimed at enhancing educational outcomes for all of our state’s students — each of whom is entitled to a sound basic education according to the North Carolina constitution. Together, elected officials and educators can create and identify innovative solutions to educational challenges. Educators can also provide feedback on impact, enabling officials to better assess their policies and ensure that legislation is continuously improving and based on real-world outcomes. These collaborative efforts can lead to more effective and sustainable solutions that benefit students as well as the wider community. 

Building these relationships also allows for greater trust between legislators and the communities they represent. Legislators can sometimes feel removed from the communities they serve, but working alongside school communities to strengthen an area’s public schools signals a commitment to the community. It shows that local voices are being heard and that their concerns are seen as worth being addressed, boosting public confidence in the public education system and the elected officials responsible for overseeing it.

Bring Your Legislator to School Day provides an opportunity for connection that can greatly benefit school communities, legislators, and local communities at-large. By building relationships with the intent of fostering understanding and collaboration, we can create and enact policies that are in tune with local needs and challenges and allow us to enhance our public education system. Ultimately, these relationships can help build the stronger, more equitable education system all North Carolina students deserve.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.