By Sharon Kebschull Barrett, January 16, 2020
Over several visits last year to Edgecombe County Public Schools, I had the privilege of interviewing Opportunity Culture educators in many roles, from the superintendent to a beginning teacher. Located in a rural county an hour east of Raleigh, North Carolina, Edgecombe schools face challenges in recruiting and retaining great educators who have many large-city options nearby.
But the enthusiasm, commitment, and all-in-this-together spirit of Edgecombe win visitors over quickly, and even after long days of interviews, my colleague Beverley Tyndall and I leave feeling reinvigorated.
As Beverley puts the finishing touches on a video, here are a few short takes from these educators on the difference Opportunity Culture makes in their schools.
Superintendent Valerie Bridges calls deciding to use Opportunity Culture a “no-brainer.” She’s sold on the value of Multi-Classroom Leadership and extending the reach of great teachers to more students, for more pay, within regular budgets. Edgecombe began rolling out Opportunity Culture district-wide in the 2017-18 school year.
“We thought it makes sense that everybody in our district should have an opportunity, not just certain schools or certain sides of the county,” Bridges said. “The first year was to implement it at the north side of the county, which has traditionally been a harder side of this county to have teacher positions filled and keep them filled all year. Our first year with Opportunity Culture, we had no openings—that had never happened.”
Kelly Anne Mudd, principal of Martin Millennium Academy, does not hesitate to focus on the “reimagine” part of Edgecombe’s “Futures Reimagined” slogan—she led a team to completely redesign the school’s use of space last year. And in reimagining teaching roles through Opportunity Culture, she sees direct results for students from Multi-Classroom Leadership:
Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) Cherelle Sanders, also at Martin Millenium, speaks to the benefits of Multi-Classroom Leadership over the traditional instructional coach role. “You get someone that works directly with you, and it’s not the instructional coach who’s working with the entire school, but you have someone that’s targeted to give you what you need when you need it.”
Sanders’ fellow MCL Andrea Green agrees, highlighting the difference she can make now versus her time as an instructional coach.
“When Opportunity Culture came along and there was a bonus for doing that work, and it also came with a lot of training, I was like, ‘yep’ and it’s just been wonderful training. And it’s very focused coaching—when I was an instructional coach, I was the instructional coach for the kindergarten through eighth grade,” Green said. As an MCL, “I focus on four teachers…so the set-up is so much better than the traditional instructional coach’s role, because those roles always ended up being—it was too much or you weren’t doing anything well because you were so spread out. So I think this is a much better model.”
First-grade teacher Antwan Brown credits Green’s leadership for a major impact on his students. As part of Green’s teaching team, Brown overcame his fears about being a new teacher—and was named the district’s beginning teacher of the year. “Without my support system, the primary one being my MCL who taught first grade for years and comes in and jumps right in, there’s no way I could have had that accomplishment.”
Principal Lauren Lampron of Patillo Middle School spoke about the importance of pay supplements for Opportunity Culture roles: “I also think it’s great that we’re able to provide a pay supplement for EITs [expanded-impact teachers] or MCLs or other advanced roles, because what we’re really doing is acknowledging the fact that you are very good at your craft, and you should be rewarded as such.”
EIT Shirley Lloyd also highlights the power of pay supplements for respecting the work of great teachers and alleviating the need for teachers to work a second job. Opportunity Culture helps keep more teachers “because if you’re given an opportunity to actually do something that you love and then get paid more for doing it, then it’s only going to make it better.”
Finally, Phillips Middle School Principal Jenny O’Meara echoed what we’ve heard repeatedly from principals: