From Willis Whichard

Fifteen years ago the executive director of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching invited me to membership on the Center’s Foundation board.  My parents were public school teachers.  I am a product of public education.  Without a good public school system in my hometown of Durham, and a world-class public university in nearby Chapel Hill which I could attend at very little cost, I hate to think what my life might have been like.  I now have grandchildren in the public schools.  Dr. Mary Jo Allen could not have known what a soft touch I would be for her request.  She had made it to a man who could choke up just driving past a school house.

By now you have guessed that I accepted the invitation.  I spent eleven years on the Center’s Foundation board and have now been on its board of trustees for four years.  I have established and helped to fund scholarships there to honor my mother and the late Simon Terrell of Chapel Hill, who was my teacher and basketball coach at Durham High.  I have attended week-long seminars with teachers and been a presenter in briefer programs.

Again, by now you have gathered that I consider NCCAT a worthwhile organization.  Indeed I do.  I have often thought that with the benefit of NCCAT my mother might have taught longer and my father might have lived longer.  Teachers are refreshed, renewed, reinvigorated by the NCCAT experience.  Retention rate in the profession is significantly higher for teachers with that experience than for those without it.

Most important, by enriching teachers we are enriching their students.  On the last full day of the programs I have attended, the participating teachers were asked how they would integrate their NCCAT learning into their classrooms.  Every one of them knew exactly how they would do it.  It was impressive.

So why have I become a first-time commentator on WCHL to tell you this?  Because we are at serious risk of losing this vital institution.  The North Carolina House budget funds it for the coming biennium, but the Senate budget does not.  A conference committee thus will make the final decision.

Quality professional development for teachers is not optional.  In today’s complex world teaching is a rapidly changing profession, and the only way to prepare North Carolina’s students for their future is through relevant and sustained professional learning for their teachers.

For the sake of our children, who are our future, let’s keep the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching to advance teaching as an art and a profession.  Let our state legislators know that in the conference committee, the House position, which retains high-quality professional development for our children’s teachers, must prevail.

— Willis Whichard