By Margaret High, November 22, 2019
Congratulations to Vance County Schools Superintendent Anthony Jackson, named the 2020 A. Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the Year! Jackson, who has led Vance County Schools since 2015, brought Opportunity Culture to the district in 2016–17.
“Dr. Tony Jackson has developed a culture of innovation and excellence at Vance County Schools,” Jack Hoke, executive director of the North Carolina School Superintendent’s Association, said at the awards ceremony Tuesday night. “He has created countless leadership opportunities for administrators, teachers and support staff, and has encouraged risk-taking by all employees to improve student outcomes.”
In a 2019 interview with Public Impact’s Sharon Kebschull Barrett, Jackson talked extensively about supporting innovation and risk-taking.
“I promised myself if I were ever given the opportunity to lead a district that I would give teachers the space and the permission to try new and innovative things if they could demonstrate the research that this would make a difference for children,” he said.
Jackson calls the current climate “probably the most consequential times in public education. We have to think differently about the work. We have to change to embrace the needs of the students [and] be willing to embrace the fact that our students learn differently—and as a result, our teachers need different kinds of experiences if they’re going to be successful.”
Opportunity Culture “supports our belief as a district that we can be an incubator for innovation,” he said.
When Jackson came to Vance County Schools (VCS), the district was struggling with high teacher turnover, an inability to compete against nearby districts with higher pay supplements, and historically low-performing schools.
Opportunity Culture allowed the district to increase teacher pay, develop teacher leadership through career paths that kept great teachers in the classroom, and provide intensive support and development to teachers.
Teachers and administrators say they feel the support to try new things. They credit Jackson’s energy and emphasis on innovation as an impetus for growth in their schools.
“With our superintendent, everything is bold and is a risk,” said Carnetta Thomas, principal at L.B. Yancey Elementary. “We know that he’s going to support us when we step out there—he’s not going to just leave us out there to dry.”
Aycock Elementary Principal Kristen Boyd agrees. “The level of support from our administration at the district level has been amazing. You’re allowed to take a risk, and if you fail, they are like, ‘just get up and try again.’ They are always positive and encourage you to try new things.”
Boyd is one of four Vance educators to have been named as Opportunity Culture Fellows in the past two years, along with Casey Jackson, Cherie Dixon, and Amber Hines. Fellows are selected based on recommendations from the district, have a record of achieving high student learning growth, and display strong leadership skills.
Opportunity Culture has become part of the foundation for VCS, Jackson said.
“When you build a new house, after it’s finished, you can change the curtains and the furniture every year—the only thing you can’t go back and redo is the foundation,” Jackson said. “I want us to stay focused on making sure we lay a very strong foundation for this work in the district so that when we look back, it’s embedded in the fiber of the work that we’re doing here in Vance County.”
Jackson will now compete at the national level for Superintendent of the Year, to be named at the February American Association of School Administrators conference.