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Running towards the risk of doing school differently, leading school turnaround

When Donnell Cannon stepped in front of the State Board of Education during its November meeting, he was addressing an audience longing for a little pick-me-up.  For two days, the State Board had heard about growing inequities among North Carolina’s students and a dire need for school turnaround leaders.

The afternoon before Cannon spoke, a panel of turnaround principals gave the Board a list of attributes that turnaround leaders should possess. One Board member commented on the list of attributes, wondering if people with all of them actually existed.

Enter Cannon, a young, charismatic principal who says he teaches the richest kids in the state, despite the high levels of poverty in his school and county. Cannon offered the State Board a blueprint on how turnaround can work at schools, providing a glimpse into North Edgecombe High School.

When Cannon finished speaking and the sounds of the standing ovation he received died down, one audience member wondered aloud, “Are you real?”

To be sure, school turnaround leaders exist in North Carolina’s public schools. There just aren’t enough of them in place to turn around every school in need of a boost. And after hearing about the problem repeatedly, Cannon’s message of inspiration and practical experience resonated with Board members.

Taylor Shain

Taylor Shain is a documentary filmmaker and video producer with EducationNC.

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.