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The Hoke County Way: “Why not us, why not now”

The principal of West Hoke Middle School, Mary McLeod, wanted to take her students to our nation’s capital. Dr. Freddie Williamson, the superintendent, wasn’t so sure. 

Each year, the district collectively reads a book. This particular year the book was Results Now, and the mantra was, “Why not us, why not now?”

Principal McLeod, after hearing the superintendent’s concerns, simply asked,

“Why not us, why not now?”

They went to DC.


In Hoke County, everybody pushes everybody, and the push is for education, exposure, and excellence.

Focus on health

Seat time matters as the district pushes forward on these goals. A recent newsletter from the school nurses to the students and parents notes:

Absenteeism severely affects academics.

Students need to attend school in order to succeed.

Academic achievement or failure can be greatly impacted by school attendance.

Debra Patterson is the full-time school nurse at West Hoke Middle School, and each and every morning she stands at the front entrance of the school to greet the students. She serves as more than just a friendly face. She is checking for pink eye, students that are too sick to be in school, students that look depressed. She is the front line for school health.

She works with the students that are diabetic and asthmatic, teaching them how to manage their chronic illnesses in a way that promotes academic excellence. Two days ago, a student had a seizure at school. The day before a student threatened suicide.  

Patterson says,

“These teenagers are trying to find themselves in the midst of everything else going on in the world.”  

She is there to help them understand the role of health and education as they make their way.

Focus on exposure

Working with students in poverty is an uphill battle. The district tells me that children on welfare come to them with an estimated 13 million cumulative words that have been addressed to the child, which sounded like a lot to me until they told me that children in working-class families are exposed to 26 million words and children in professional families are exposed to 45 million words. 1  As a result, the district works to embed literacy and exposure in everything that they do. Thus the trip to DC.

Exposure is broadly defined here. Exposure to other places. Exposure to opportunities. Exposure to books. Exposure to colleges. And exposure to art.

In every school that I visit, student art is everywhere.

Focus on understanding


Before she became a principal, Mary McLeod was a part-time bus driver and custodian, a single parent of three. She is proof that education can break the cycle of poverty.

She reminds me of the book Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks by Robert Williams. McLeod says, “In a large classroom with 30 kids, these students want to be heard. It’s their culture.” McLeod takes these students’ survival skills, which she sees as a strength, and she teaches them how to balance their two worlds — home and school — so that academic excellence is the most likely outcome. 

“We want to teach the children they have choices to make.”

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



Show 1 footnote

  1. Betty Hart & Todd Risley, Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children, 1995.
Mebane Rash

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