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The Hoke County Way: Problem solved

“We have an opportunity to blow the lid off school attainment, dramatically and swiftly reduce the achievement gap, and enhance the ‘life chances’ of all children, regardless of their social or economic circumstances.”  Mike Schmoker, Results Now

This week at EdNC, we are getting to know the Hoke County Schools. Context is important.

There are no charter or private schools in Hoke County. Charter schools just across the Moore, Cumberland, and Robeson county lines, Fayetteville Christian Academy, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, and home schools do draw some students, but by and large the public schools — eight elementary schools, three middle schools, one traditional high school, one early college, and one alternative school — dominate the market share in this county.  

And Hoke County Schools is the largest employer in the county. Of the some 1,300 employees, more than 550 are teachers.

Hoke Employers

These things change the dynamic of a county.

Everybody knows everybody. The school system is invested in the community and the community is invested in the school system. Everyone is incented to make sure all kids succeed. School employees know the future of the county depends on it. And it is personal.  

“Our children go to school here.  We believe in this county.”

Respect permeates all interactions. Teachers are still right up there with doctors and lawyers. Everyone addresses each other formally — from Mr. McBryde, a custodian, on up to Dr. Williamson, the superintendent.

Mary McLeod, principal of West Hoke Middle School
Mary McLeod, principal of West Hoke Middle School

It changes the way teachers and administrators interact with students too.  Principal Mary McLeod of West Hoke Middle Schools tells me, “Disrespect is not disrespect.” She trains her teachers to think about student behaviors differently, teaching them how to de-escalate situations so students can remain in class. “We don’t confront our students in front of their peers,” she says. “If you approach them in front of their peers, the situation will explode.” She instructs her teachers to ask the student to step out of the classroom into the hallway. This gives the student a few minutes to reflect and calm down, and it gives the teacher a few minutes to regroup the class. This process builds self-esteem, trust, and respect, which is good for the student, the school, and the community.  

The market share and largest employer dynamics frame the need for the system to play a prominent role in community leadership.  

In turn, this school system systematically identifies challenges, identifies solutions, and implements the solutions to solve problems. Examples include building a teacherage and a new middle school that generates energy — literally.

Identify the challenge+Identify the solution+Implement the solution=Problem solved

Echo Ridge: Housing for teachers

echo ridge
Echo Ridge opened June 1, 2013

echo ridge

Turnover is high — 25 percent — and there are not enough teachers in Hoke County from Hoke County. The system hired 34 new teachers from out of state in 2011-12 and 45 in 2012-13, with most coming from Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. It’s hard to get jobs in these states without experience, so young teachers are willing to move to Hoke County to learn the art of teaching. 

But there were no apartments suitable for young teachers in Hoke County, and most lived in Fayetteville with a smaller group choosing Aberdeen. Both of those options removed the teachers from community they came here to serve.

So Hoke County Schools built Echo Ridge, an apartment complex with 24 2-bedroom, 2-bath units situated ideally in the heart of Raeford. Rent is just $700 a month and pets are allowed.

Nate Adair setting up for field day
Nate Adair setting up for field day

Nate Adair, a physical education teacher at West Hoke Middle, says he interviewed at 10am, got the job, and by 2pm he had an apartment. “It was a major stress relief,” he says, noting that the apartments are safe and that instead of rowdy neighbors you are surrounded by teachers. The apartments are three minutes from his school.

Sara Cagle is the recruitment specialist for Hoke County Schools, and she serves as the leasing agent. A company donated the land, and the State Employees Credit Union Foundation provided a $2.5 million loan at 0% interest for the project. When the 15-year loan is paid off, the rent will provide revenue for the school system.

Cagle says the teacherage gets people’s attention, and at job fairs she is often approached. “Are you guys the ones with the apartments?”

Problem solved.

Sandy Grove Middle School: A state-of-the-art building for Lumber Bridge

Sandy Grove Middle School in Lumber Bridge is the first net-positive energy, LEED Platinum designed, leased public school in the nation.  It was funded and built through a public-private partnership.

A private company owns the $25 million building. 

Charles Tapp, the director of facilities for Hoke County Schools, gives me a tour of the building, including the four solar trees out front and the 2300 solar panels on the roof. The building generates more energy than it uses.

solar panels

The civic pride in this building is remarkable.

Charging stations line the parking lot.
Charles Tapp monitors the dashboard, which displays the school’s production and use of energy.

The civic pride generated by this building is remarkable.

Problem solved.

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.