EDITORIAL: Head of Class creators inspire achievement

Jan. 30, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The aim of The Herald’s “Citizen of the Year” award is to recognize outstanding contributions to Sanford and Lee County from the prior calendar year. Our newest winners — Dennis Wicker, Kirk Bradley and Dr. Carol Chappell, the team behind the creation of “The Head of Class Project” — actually began formulating plans for the program in 2010 as a way to financially reward faculty and staff of high-achieving elementary schools. The first winner, B.T. Bullock Elementary School, was honored a year later, with the $50,000 prize used to tangibly reward Bullock’s staff; this past year’s winner was Greenwood Elementary School.

We awarded the prize to the trio for 2012 because of the momentum (both locally and statewide) Head of Class has created throughout the year. It would be difficult to name any single person or group of people whose work had more impact than Head of Class has had; in some it way touched nearly every student in Lee County last year. And with so many other school systems considering programs patterned after it, the legacy of the work Wicker and Bradley (who serve as part of the leadership team for the Lee County Education Foundation) and Chappell (the director of K-5 instruction for Lee County Schools) started will undoubtedly be far-reaching.

Back in the fall of 2010, when the Lee County Education Foundation announced the project, we wrote in this space that, “Innovation and ‘outside the box’ thinking are common in many of our classrooms because teachers know it stimulates learning. But it’s not so typical in what is normally a bureaucratic (often by necessity) schools administration operation … The Head of the Class project, however, a joint effort between the foundation and Lee County Schools, decidedly qualifies as innovative because of the way it takes private money to acknowledge and reward staff and student performance, based on a formula using N.C. Department of Public Instruction achievement measures … The recognition is certainly a tremendous benefit to our county, and not because the recognition alone will lead to better grades or better-performing schools. The recognition will, however, be noticed by businesses and residents looking to make Lee County their home. ‘Lee County,’ ‘innovation’ and ‘education’ are being used in the same sentence. And people are noticing.”

That's more true now than ever. But what means the most is local results. The healthy competition for the prize goes far beyond local schools working to simply improve test scores. Faculty and students have rallied around Head of Class as a worthy, attainable objective. The first winner, B.T. Bullock, actually would have finished dead last among Lee County's elementary schools had Head of Class made its first award in 2010 instead of 2011. It was discovering how poorly the school fared in comparison to its counterparts that motivated Bullock’s leadership to go for the inaugural Head of Class prize —a source of inspiration that will no doubt be retold by future winners.

So many things go into making public education work. There are countless untold stories, especially among the students who are doing the learning, and unsung heroes at every school in Lee County. Thanks to the work of Wicker, Bradley and Chappell, there exists here a wonderful platform for those worthy stories.