Wake Ed Partnership honors key figures

Posted September 25, 2008

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— Wake Education Partnership – an independent advocacy group that works with business leaders, educators and elected officials to improve public education – celebrated its 25th anniversary Sept. 19 by honoring 25 individuals who were critical to the success of the Wake County Public School System during the past three decades.

The honorees:

Barbara Allen
Before Barbara was known as a Democratic Party activist – and eventually state Democratic Party chairman – she was deeply involved in local school issues.

In the early years, that meant working to support school integration and the merger of the city and county school districts.

In subsequent years, that commitment meant working just as hard to help the system launch year-round schools, preschool programs and Communities in Schools program.

Barbara was also instrumental in the establishment of the Wake Education Partnership and is one of the reasons we are here today. Barbara, Thank you.

Tom Bradshaw
From a kid growing up in Halifax Court to a young participant in the leadership programs established by longtime Chamber President Ed Garland, Tom Bradshaw and Raleigh are one.

That includes Tom’s election as mayor of Raleigh in 1971, which helped set the tone within the community for supporting the merger of the city and county districts in 1976.

After the merger, he continued to push hard for the schools, insisting the newly merged system be given the money to do the job right. He is a friend that educators know they can depend on whenever he is needed.

Fred Carnage
Fred Carnage was an attorney and the first African-American to serve on the Raleigh City School Board, holding the seat from 1949 to 1962. He is also believed to be the first African-American to hold an administrative post in the modern era of any North Carolina school.

At a time when integration of the schools came slowly – if at all – black families often needed a recommendation from a trusted source before the district would even consider reassigning their child to a white school. That task often fell to Fred Carnage, whose demeanor and stature helped to begin bridging the gulf that defined separate and unequal in the days of segregation.

Elizabeth Cofield
Breaking barriers so others could benefit is part of what defines Elizabeth Cofield’s service.

A member of the Raleigh City School Board in the 1960s until she became the first African-American and the first woman elected to the Wake County Board of Commissioners, Elizabeth was a strong advocate for integration and higher student achievement.

Among the many issues where her work preceded others was an insistence that girls who became pregnant be allowed to finish school. Through the years, Elizabeth was quick to encourage others, ensuring that a future generation of leaders would follow her.

Paul DelaCourt
Paul DelaCourt has taken on many civic assignments in Raleigh, but believes his most important work was as chairman of the committee that decided which schools would close, which would be expanded and which schools would join forces in a newly merged city-county district.

A recent arrival from Texas at the time, he knew enough to be honored when city fathers asked him to chair the committee and, by his own admission, he knew too little to appreciate what he was getting into.

Paul described it this way: “I was a Yankee, a Republican, a Catholic and had no children or graduates from either school system. In 1969, any of the above could have gotten me run out of town, which was frequently suggested.”

But after countless meetings and a tireless effort, the merger was approved and the committee led by Paul became the blueprint for how facilities would be used in the new district.

Mel Finch
Mel served on the school boards of the Raleigh City district and the newly merged county board of education during that challenging period of the 1960s and 1970s.

His low-key demeanor and constant presence was a stabilizing force that was invaluable for the community.

As the CFO for the News & Observer during that time, he also brought key fiscal insight to the operations that helped the new board avoid countless pitfalls.

Nita Fulbright
When Nita Fulbright enrolled her three children in school, she had a fairly simple goal: She just wanted to be a part of their educational experience. She ultimately helped shape the schools they attended.

After getting involved in the PTA at Frances Lacy Elementary, she assisted in the development of the Wake County PTA Council. She then served as the eastern representative for the NC PTA and helped implement statewide training to increase parental participation in schools.

She went on to increase the involvement of the business community in local schools through programs such as “Meet the Superintendent,” the Wake County Education Foundation, mini grants for teachers, Pieces of Gold and the Free Enterprise Education Program for high school students run through the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

Mary Gentry
Mary Gentry worked tirelessly for public education for 19 years, serving on the Wake County Board of Education for nine years prior to the merger, which she initially opposed.

But as a member of the newly merged board, she was a tireless advocate for the money and resources needed to make the system a success.

She eventually served as the chair of both boards before ending her tenure in 1986. Accepting for Mary Gentry is her son, Ben and daughter Gayle.

John Gilbert
It is difficult for many people to recall debates about magnet schools and student reassignment s without thinking of John Gilbert.

A three-time chairman of the school board, John was a passionate defender of diversity who had no tolerance for intolerance. If a proposal had the effect – intended or unintended – of reducing the district’s commitment to diversity, John’s voice was strong and predictable.

Even before he was elected to the board, John was a key player in a committee that helped establish balanced school board districts and guide the new system’s use of facilities for years to come.

Whenever he was pressed about the inconvenience of a system that demanded diversity, he asked the same question. Is Wake County better off today for the path it has chosen? The answer is obvious.

Norma Haywood
Norma Haywood served as a teacher and administrator for 39 years in the public schools of Wake and Raleigh.

During that time, she was a steady voice and encouraging model for hundreds of black and white educators who were making the transition from segregation to integration during the 1970s.

She led three elementary schools – Mary Phillips, Effie Green and Conn – through major changes. She was a master principal who was twice named Principal of the Year in Wake and recognized with numerous awards during her long career.

Joseph Holliday
Joseph Holliday’s importance to the schools of Wake County depends on who you ask.

To former students, it was his time in the classroom. To athletes, it was his title as coach – including the only undefeated basketball team to ever come out of Broughton High School, which occurred in 1949.

To those who attended Broughton in later years, including former Mayor Smedes York, it was Holliday’s time as principal where he was known for setting high standards for academic excellence and discipline.

Holliday directed the consolidation of Hugh Morson High School, Methodist Home For Children High School and Broughton High in the 1950s.

His work involving student scholarships and strong academics set a standard he then carried with him when becoming assistant superintendent and area director for the entire district.

Casper Holroyd
Casper Holroyd became one of the city school board's first elected members in the 1960s shortly after the city council stopped appointing members in favor of general elections.

In 1969, having just become the board's senior member, he got a call during a meeting in the superintendent’s office.

“It was the Justice Department, Civil Rights Division requiring that we be in Washington to start a desegregation of our school system,” Casper recalled recently in an interview with district officials. “It was,” he said with a bit of understatement, “a very major thing."

The practical problems involved in the merger were countless, but Holroyd led the board through those and others, serving as the chair of the city board throughout the mid 1970s as the districts were merged despite some strong opposition.

"None of us could imagine the impact merger would have on the success story of Wake County in general and the future of public education in our area,” Casper said.

Conrad Hooper
From a teaching assignment at Fred Olds Elementary School in 1948 to deputy superintendent of a newly merged school district in the 1970s, Conrad Hooper played a key role in the quality of our local schools.

He led the group in the early 1950s that helped the city schools establish a junior high school program – the forerunner to today’s middle schools. In 1955, he was named principal of Daniels Junior High and in 1959 he became an assistant to the superintendent.

Conrad was named superintendent of the city schools in 1964, giving him a pivotal role in the 1976 merger. He remained in the merged system for three more years as deputy superintendent before retiring after 31 years in the schools.

Ann Koonce
During her 10 years on the Wake County school board beginning in 1981, Ann was a constant advocate of good teaching in the schools.

To many, she often appeared more of an educator than a politician, but her keen understanding of what the community needed and wanted often forced others to focus on the classroom.

She served two terms as chair of the board, from 1985 through 1987.

Walter Marks
As Superintendent of the Wake County school system, Walter designed and implemented the magnet schools program shortly after arriving in 1981. For many people, his decision to open 27 magnet schools in 1982 marks the formal beginning of the program in Wake County.

His decision to press ahead with the program ultimately proved it was possible to integrate the poorer schools in and around downtown Raleigh by offering parents a wide variety of academic programs. It was an idea replicated throughout the country.

Walter is also responsible for creating the Pieces of Gold talent program, still one of the district’s best-known annual events. The idea created the first round of funding for the Wake Education Partnership in 1983.

Charlotte Martin
Charlotte was a member of the Wake Board of Education during the key years of the mid 1970s and early 1980s.

As chairman of the board in 1981 through 1983, she oversaw the beginning of the magnet school program.

Through her commitment to gifted education, the group known as PAGE (Parents for Advancement of Gifted Education) established itself statewide and led to laws requiring programs for the teaching of gifted students.

John Murphy
John was hired as the first superintendent of the newly merged Wake County Public School System in April 1976.

At a time when it would have been easy to let the details of merger and integration overwhelm the district, his ability to focus on improving student achievement kept the schools grounded.

Many people who worked with John believe he is largely responsible for setting the school system on the path of academic excellence it enjoys today. His commitment to maintaining a focus on the needs of the students is unparalleled.

Ralph Campbell Sr. Family
Conscientious community leaders, the Campbell family was already known as a strong advocate for civil rights and quality education when Ralph Campbell Sr. and his wife, June, made the decision to send their son Bill to a white school in 1960.

It would be another 15 years before the city and county school systems would merge. It would take countless meetings and endless debate before integration became common.

But at Murphy Elementary School in 1960, a frightened child held the hand of his mother while the two of them approached the school steps amid jeers and taunts from nearby white parents.

“Hold your head up and just count the steps,” June told her son. The trip down the sidewalk and through the school door helped lead us to where we are today.

Jim Shepherd
A long-time Democratic Party leader and spokesperson for the African-American community, Jim Shepherd was a strong advocate for the orderly integration of the schools.

Raleigh attorney Wade Smith, at the time a North Carolina legislator, recalls him as a man with “an aura of fierceness” who spoke “with great power and eloquence.”

An early supporter of merging the Raleigh City and Wake school systems, Shepherd was an important figure in both the black and white communities where he was often called upon to speak. Accepting the award is State Sen. Vernon Malone of Raleigh.

Harvey Schmitt
As president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, Harvey has repeatedly worked to win approval of the education bond issues needed to help the district keep up with enrollment growth.

He is among the first to make sure the public understands the connection between quality schools and economic growth. And he routinely works behind the scenes to help members of the Wake Board of Education and County Commissioners tackle difficult funding issues.

His most recent efforts include a joint proposal with the Partnership focused on continued improvement in academic achievements. It serves as yet another example of his unwavering commitment to education excellence.

President of the Chamber since 1994 and a member of numerous boards and other groups, his willingness to promote public education among, and on behalf of, businesses here is a big reason Wake schools maintain their excellent standing.

Wray Stephens
With almost 20 years on the Wake Board of Education, Wray Stevens is one of the district’s longest-serving board members.

More importantly, his quiet counsel and steady approach helped guide the district through a host of challenges – not the least of which included the expansion of the magnet program during explosive growth.

A former classroom teacher, his ability to see through the political noise and management distractions helped keep the board focused on children. It was an attribute that explains why he was highly respected by his peers and district administrators throughout his tenure.

The 1975 Wake County Legislative Delegation: Al Adams; Ruth Cook; Bill Creech; Bob Farmer; Joe Johnson and Wade Smith.
The "Solid Six" as they called themselves, prepared and submitted to the N.C. General Assembly the bill calling for merger of the former Raleigh City and Wake County school systems into our current Wake County Public School System.

It was the only way merger could have occurred at the time given the public’s opposition.

In those days, the delegation gathered every Monday evening to hold an open meeting with any constituent who wanted to see them. It was during those meetings that people like Ralph Campbell and Jim Shepherd would come calling.

And it was during those meetings the delegation understood –and cleared the way – for a merged school system.

Rev. Charles Ward
As minister of First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street, the Rev. Charles Ward volunteered his time and counsel to many African American students in the early years of integration.

At the urging of school system attorneys, Rev. Ward counseled African American students who were often suspended or expelled from the Raleigh City School System during the first year of integration.

Sherry Worth
While many leaders can trace their support of education to the time when they enrolled their children, Sherry Worth recalls raising money with her father when she about 12 or 13 years old. “I believe it was a fundraiser selling pennants,” she recalled recently, “but it seemed like my father was always involved in some type of event such as that and I was happy to be a part of it.”

Her skills were quickly put to use through the local PTAs once she enrolled her own children, including the years she spent as president of the PTAs at Daniels Middle School and Broughton High, where she once again took fundraising to a new level.

She was also deeply involved in fund development for the Wake Education Partnership, including her time as chairman of the Board of Directors in 2002. Sherry is also a longtime supporter, trustee and distinguished alumni of Peace College in Raleigh.

Willie York
In a community divided over issues of race, it often wasn’t easy for white leaders to support the early days of school integration. It was harder still to make it happen.

Willie York was among those who made it happen. He worked with African American leaders in the community to develop a plan and then he made the motion to accept Bill Campbell as the first black student in the city’s schools.

That motion was a critical step because even though the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 that forced segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, Raleigh still required that black families be invited to enroll in a white school.

Willie’s vote – and more importantly his broader support – allowed Wake to take its first halting steps toward integration and diversity. 


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