For the second time in the last few months, State Superintendent Dr. June St. Clair Atkinson, the first woman elected State Superintendent of the Public Schools of North Carolina, travelled to Western North Carolina from Raleigh, this time stopping in Franklin.
Serving as State Superintendent since 2005, Dr. Atkinson understands the importance of improving teaching and learning, creating school environments that encourage student success, keeping education modern and relevant, and graduating every student career and college ready. That is why she wanted to visit the Macon County Schools Central Office on Tuesday morning to recognize Nantahala School for being one of only 28 schools in the state to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate.
“Although the state's graduation has improved from 68 percent to over 80 percent in the last five years, only 28 schools from across the state achieved 100 percent last year,” said Dr. Atkinson. “I wanted to visit Macon County to recognize the district and Nantahala Principal James Bryan for this accomplishment.”
In addition to visiting Macon County's central office, Dr. Atkinson was also the guest speaker at the Western Region meeting of North Carolina Retired School Personnel.
“As a state, the Western Region typically has the highest graduation rates of any region in North Carolina,” said Dr. Atkinson. “In fact, Graham County, this year, has the highest graduation rate of any school district in the entire state, nearly 94 percent.”
Dr. Atkinson also praised Macon County and other counties in the region for being able to do more teaching with less funding. “Harvard University just released a report in April saying that North Carolina is among six states in the country getting the highest student achievement for every incremental dollar that we spend in education,” said Dr. Atkinson. “Meaning that we get the biggest bang for our buck.”
According to Dr. Atkinson, the greatest challenge facing Macon County schools is being able to stay on track and continue the progress already evident in the education of the students. “In 2005, Macon County's graduation rate was 66 percent and last year, at 85 percent, it was above the state's average,” she said. “Continuing the progress of graduating every single child and insuring each child gets a solid foundation in reading is important.”
Macon County’s unique geographical layout is often looked at as a challenge for students, and Dr. Atkinson agreed. “Programs like the community group Read2Me are very important to improve reading achievement in Macon County,” said Dr. Atkinson. “Read2Me is working to improve childhood development early on by teaching them a good vocabulary through early conversations with adults by reading. With communities isolated from one another and the county being so stretched out, it is important for members of the community to work together in groups like Read2Me to make up for the geographic location of the area.”
Dr. Atkinson recognized the strengths of the Macon County education system by saying the variety of schools like Macon Early College and Union academy, offer students the opportunity to be engaged in specialized curriculum with courses geared toward the individual. “The personalized education and different environment catering to student needs that these schools offer are instrumental in the success of so many young people's lives.”
About Dr. June Atkinson
In leading the State Department of Public Instruction, Dr. Atkinson is directing the groundbreaking Accountability and Curriculum Reform Effort (ACRE) initiative to revitalize the state's programs. North Carolina's landmark Race to the Top grant is helping support this work in addition to other key reform initiatives such as transforming low-performing schools. Dr. Atkinson has also been focused on ensuring students have the opportunity to learn the technical skills that are important in today's global economy.
As State Superintendent, Dr. Atkinson oversees almost 1.5 million students in more than 2,500 public schools and 115 districts. She has more than 35 years of experience in education. During her career, she has served as a chief consultant and director in the areas of business education, career and technical education, and instructional services within the NCDPI. A former business education teacher, Dr. Atkinson has been involved in instruction and curriculum development throughout her career.
She has received numerous awards over the years including recent accolades such as the Champion of Children Award from the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, the State Policy Maker of the Year Award from the National Association for State Educational Technology Directors, and the North Carolina Association of Educators Inclusive Leadership Award. Dr. Atkinson currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Chief State School Officers.