Because I enjoy studying history, I was intrigued when a Rowan County teacher living in my district recently emailed to share information about a North Carolina leader from the past, Mr. Calvin Wiley. Born almost 200 years ago in 1819, Mr. Wiley was a strong believer in public education. He was a husband, father of seven children, novelist (one of the first in our state), newspaper editor, textbook author, attorney, legislator, Presbyterian minister, and N.C.’s first superintendent of schools. Following the establishment of our common schools, Mr. Wiley realized the need to reform our state’s public education system, by offering teachers more resources, textbooks, continuing education, and licensure. Wiley led this effort to improve access to education state-wide by growing the number of teachers and schools. During this time period, N.C. saw our literacy rates increase significantly while he worked tirelessly to improve education. As a result, in the 1860s, N.C. was ranked third in education — behind only Connecticut and Massachusetts. Now let us fast forward to 2014. Our state is ranked near the bottom of the nation in teacher pay and per pupil spending. And while money doesn’t fix everything, it does provide much needed resources like technology and textbooks, well maintained classrooms, lab equipment, safe school buses, and competitive teacher salaries. As your state senator, I know we can do better. In fact, we need to set our sights on being #1 in the nation. Education is the key to better jobs, more research and innovation, and a future that offers more opportunities for our children and grandchildren.
Last week I attended a Joint Education Oversight Committee where I heard a presentation from a newly formed group of business leaders in N.C. — BEST NC — or Businesses for Educational Success and Transformation. I have had several positive conversations with this new organization of business leaders and I enthusiastically endorse their 3 primary objectives for public education in N.C.:
(1) Every student will be ready to learn and be globally competitive
(2) Every student will have an excellent teacher and school leadership
(3) Every student will graduate with relevant globally-competitive career and life skills.
I know we can accomplish these objectives and I pledge to support our teachers and students to help make NC #1 in education.
Despite the inclement weather in February, I had a busy month. I continued my travels across our district to attend community and civic meetings, visit schools, and meet with various constituent groups. Here are just a few of my recent activities:
In Anson County I met with local farmers and N.C. Department of Agriculture officials to promote small farming marketing practices. I attended the Anson Economic Development Summit, where I served on a panel with other area legislators to discuss how to promote and foster economic growth. And finally, I had the honor to attend the Wadesboro Rotary Club to recognize Preston Burns, a community leader who turned 100 years old recently and has been a Rotarian for 75 years. As a Rotarian for the past 30 years, I admire Burns’ lifelong dedication to serving his community.
In Richmond County I visited the Richmond Early College — an opportunity for high school students to graduate with a high school diploma and associate’s degree — and heard from teachers and students about their educational experience. Along with Rep. Ken Goodman, I met with N.C. Highway Patrol Troop H to hear about the needs of highway patrol officers in our region. Rep. Pierce, Rep. Goodman and I attended a legislative breakfast meeting with board members, staff, and students at Richmond Community College. I also attended the dedication of the RCC Forte Building — the home of technical and industrial training at the college. Having served as an RCC trustee with the late Forte, it was a special day to honor his legacy.
In Rowan County I attended the China Grove Town Council Meeting where I presented a legislative update and congratulated the town on their 125th anniversary. I met with staff at Nazareth Children’s Home, Rockwell, to learn about the important services they have been providing to children for over 100 years. In addition, I held meetings with constituents on various state government issues.
In Scotland County I attended the Laurinburg/Scotland County Chamber of Commerce — State of the City & County meeting. The industrial expansion at FCC was a major highlight of this event and we celebrated the cooperation between the state, city, and county to make this project a success. Donna and I enjoyed a pancake supper with the Kiwanis Club to benefit local charitable organizations. I was again on a panel with area legislators at a Town Hall meeting at Nazareth Missionary Baptist Church in Wagram, where I heard from citizens on issues like education, the state budget, and taxes. Donna also joined me for a vigil for Tristan Brown to honor Rare Disease Week, National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD).
In Stanly County I held several constituent meetings regarding business recruitment, economic, and agricultural issues. I met with Sheriff Rick Burris and Oakboro Chief of Police Joe Lowder and other law enforcement professionals to ask what I could do to assist them in their efforts to fight crime. I attended the Albemarle Rotary Club meeting and visited with Stanly Community College president Dr. Brenda Kays to learn about the many positive things happening at SCC and to learn of their future needs.
In closing, I want to share a few comments about my friend, Senator Martin Nesbitt who passed on March 7, 2014. Much has been written about Martin and his service as a legislator for more than 30 years. He stood tall for public education, for helping the mentally ill, and for average working class families and the poor. Martin was a symbol of what public service is all about. Plain-spoken and honest, he gave me valuable advice about how the legislative process works. Martin believed there is a role for government in helping people. I am a better legislator because of Martin Nesbitt and will always be grateful for his advice, his candor, and his ability to put problems and opportunities into the proper perspective. It was an honor to serve with him. I will miss him and so will the people of N.C.