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The Hoke County Way: Fostering academic potential, skills, and behaviors now and in the future

“We cannot cheat our kids — that’s malpractice.” — Principal Colleen Pegram


Colleen Pegram is a public school kid, attending PS 41 in Brooklyn. She spent 22 years in the military, driving up and down I-95, seeing the sign for Raeford. She didn’t exactly aspire to become the principal of SandHoke Early College, but it is a perfect fit for her and her students.

She controls all the variables in her building to maximize student success, but she is painfully aware that the next bump up in student performance will require a “paradigm shift.” 


 Hoke Table 3

What does rigor look like?

semi colon

In this class, a freshman presents her identity project. She is talking about depression. She plans to get a tattoo of a ; on her wrist. She says, “You are the author and the sentence is your life.” Pegram says these projects have helped her build a healthy environment for her students, one where students understand and support each other.




In this class, students are pulled out of freshman seminar if they need additional help in English/Language Arts.  





budget pit

In this civics class, students are playing People’s Pie, a game that gives students control of the federal budget. They are having to make the hard choices our policymakers face every day. A student asks, “Does the Republican party care about education?”





In this 10th grade pre-calculus class, students are creating foldables so they understand how to conceptualize the problem, work the problem, and solve the problem.






Pegram teaches a freshman seminar. Students are provided study time to work on academic courses. This group has been working on a project about volcanoes, and later in the day they will present using a hands-on demonstration with Oreos representing lithospheric plates — both Pegram and I google it.




What about that paradigm shift?

In 2013-14, more than 80 percent of the incoming students in SandHoke Early College were first generation college-going students. Many of the parents do not remember school fondly. Pegram needs better attendance. She needs her parents on board with the college and career vision she holds for each of her students.  

So, yesterday on May 28, from 10am-3pm, she invited the parents of the incoming 9th graders to come to school for a day. The event is called Parent Bridge. Pegram showed them the data she has on where each student is, how each student is predicted to perform, and then she had a hard conversation about what it would take to get those scores up. She wanted the parents to see what the classes are like, just how hard they are. 

Pegram needs parents to help her foster the academic potential, the academic skills, and the academic behaviors needed to succeed.

She also needs vertical alignment with the elementary and middle schools sending students her way. If the students in elementary and middle school start meeting growth each year, then as they come to high school, the students will be in a position to thrive.

This year, students from SandHoke were accepted to Duke, NC State, and UNC-Chapel Hill. “The minimum is just not good enough,” Pegram says.  



And what about Leandro and the future?

Nick Sojka, the attorney for Hoke County Schools, says this school district used the Leandro lawsuit to build capacity. And it worked.

In 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court established a state constitutional right to a sound, basic education for each student in North Carolina.

In this county, there is an essential humility that has come from being a lead plaintiff in the Leandro lawsuit. Sojka shows me how much money flowed into the district because of the lawsuit from 2004-09. The lawsuit and the additional resources helped this county learn how to educate at-risk students. They don’t take this for granted.

And so now many in the district worry that the more recent changes in funding are leading to a tipping point. “Our vision is these students,” says a district leader, “but we don’t pay teachers, TAs, bus drivers, or principals enough. Nobody gets paid enough. You see fewer and fewer people going into education.”

Judge Howard Manning is holding a hearing in Leandro on July 21-23, 2015, and all eyes in this county will be watching. They are desperate to hold onto their hard-won gains.

Seems fitting to end this series on Hoke County with a student poem that reminds all of us why we do this work. I’m pretty sure that’s how Dr. Williamson would want it.

The New Lost Generation

Take the road less traveled,

Frost once said.

Yet our entire generation is set on bandwagoning.

Walking on deteriorated roads,

We’ll never learn anything.

While we think we are real,

We know no truth.

While we think we know everything,

We haven’t shown proof.

As we roam this withered trail,

It’s proven …

That we are the new Lost Generation,

Who will never come to age.

If you think we’ll become sages,

We’ll laugh in your face.

We are a genocide waiting to happen,

So after,

We’re only going to aim to blame.

We are not going to feel ashamed,

And try to initiate change 


Inside each and every one of us

Is a cycle that will never disintegrate.

Unless someone comprehends

What Robert Frost said.

— Briana Branch, 10th Grade, SandHoke Early College


EdNC extends it thanks…

At EdNC, we value public service. Many thanks to all of you in Hoke County for your public service to your students and your community. Principal Bridget Hayes may have captured your spirit best when she exclaimed, “This is my school, my people, my babies.”  

When I emailed Dr. Williamson at 9:13 on a Saturday morning to ask him if I could visit his district, he responded by 9:24. Thank you, sir.

Thank you all for meeting with me and helping our state better understand the challenges and opportunities you face.

The Hoke County Series

Monday: No excuses

Tuesday: Problem solved

Wednesday: “Why not us, why not now”

Thursday: Developing readers, not test takers

Friday: Fostering academic potential, skills, and behaviors now and in the future




Mebane Rash

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