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Cooper visits Lowgap to deliver supplies, honor Bledsoe

Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Lowgap on Tuesday welcomed to campus North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper who was on hand to deliver boxes of school supplies, tour classrooms to see learning in action, and recognize Donna Bledsoe as the 2023 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.

Setting a high bar

Bledsoe was recognized for helping students at Cedar Ridge to exceed their performances goals again for the second time in three years, creating a welcoming learning environment, and finding new ways to encourage learning.

In remarks to assembled members of county administration, school board, and Gov. Cooper, she said of Cedar Ridge Elementary, “It not just a school it is a family of dedicated educators, resilient students, and engaged community members. As the leader of this incredible team, I have witnessed the unwavering dedication and tireless effort that has gone into achieving our remarkable 2023 accountability scores.”

Bledsoe said she takes, “Great pride in the fact that Cedar Ridge is among the top 5% of schools in our great state with a growth index of 6.28 and 94% of our students meeting or exceeding their individual goals.”

The school’s mission and journey extend past academic excellence she explained. “We believe that education is the great equalizer, and we are committed to equity practices that every student has the opportunity to excel. We embrace diversity as a strength and we work tirelessly to create an inclusive environment where every child feels valued, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential.”

Cedar Ridge students are armed with values to create a solid foundation for the rest of their lives, Bledsoe said. “We instill in our students the values of leadership, integrity, and service ensuring they are prepared to make a positive impact on society by leading self, leading other, and changing the world.”

“In a rapidly evolving world Cedar Ridge Elementary is a testament of excellence in public education being named a 2022 North Carolina Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development honored Cedar Ridge Elementary as a Lighthouse School,” she said.

The state wrote that such schools advance “student achievement in innovative and creative ways,” while also promoting “a positive and supportive school and community atmosphere.”

She said the school’s mission is to advocate and champion for all students, “We believe that every child regardless of background deserve to thrive and we are dedicated to making that belief a reality and bringing the joy each day as we design dreams and grow leaders.”

“Our outstanding 2023 accountability scores, commitment to equity, community partnerships, and leadership focus are testament to what we can achieve when a school community rallies around a shared mission.”

“As Principal of the Year I urge you to remember this is the story of our school, but this story of pride and success is shared in public schools across our state from Murphy to Manteo,” she said. “The joy of North Carolina public education is thriving, and we are ready to tell our stories.”

In her role as Principal of the Year she will have the chance to do just that as a traveling ambassador for principals and will also serve as an advisor on the State Board of Education for two years.

Gov. Cooper may be in his last term in office but said he will continue to fight for public education “and to do what I know is right for the people of North Carolina.”

Cooper said he spends a lot of time visiting public schools because they matter to him. He echoed a sentiment that was heard from Bledsoe and her teachers that education is the great equalizer. “That’s what our public schools are when you think of the wealth gap that continues to grow and the struggling families who do the best they can, who work really hard just to make it, quality education is going to be the answer at the end of the day.”

Cooper sounds alarm

Earlier this year the governor declared a state of emergency regarding public schools. “One of the reasons I declared a state of emergency in public educations is because we are underfunding our schools.”

“We are not keeping up with salaries that we need to keep up with, and now there is this scheme that is going to divert billions of dollars away from the general fund — and it will hurt specifically public schools — in order to fund wealthy people being able to send their kids to private schools.”

Cooper then inched closer toward a third rail of North Carolina politics. “I don’t have a problem with private schools, what I do have a problem with is the taxpayers footing the bill, particularly for rich people, at the expense of public schools.”

“That’s what this Legislature is about to do is to put these unaccountable private school vouchers, giving state money to schools with no accountability…and with some of these schools having discriminatory policies, they don’t have to take kids with disabilities, the public schools do. So, it’s important that we lift up the public schools, there is great success going on and we need do better.”

He said that rural communities deserve no less attention than their larger counterparts. “Our rural communities are places where people can really thrive. I see positives ahead for our rural communities.” Notable he said was the state’s push for full broadband internet access to all reaches which is getting ever closer to completion.

“You are going to have more and more people who are going to want to live in a rural area, a beautiful place like Surry County even though they may remotely work somewhere else,” Cooper said. He feels it is critical that strong public schools can support that future growth.

While Cooper was at Cedar Ridge, some of the ink may have still been drying on the latest budget proposal. “The budget just came out today and we have deep concerns with it — it does fund private school vouchers, it does not provide enough funding for public education, so we have got a lot of work to do.”

The day was for recognizing and celebrating Bledsoe and Cedar Ridge, so Cooper made sure not leave on a dour note. “I can’t help but leave here in a positive way just seeing how dedicated these teachers are and how dedicate all these educators are, the people who support them… the counselors, the SRO, the cafeteria workers, the bus drivers — there are so many people that make up a school and I am grateful for that.”

Growing leaders

Surry County Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves made sure to tell Cooper, “Our district is not just about numbers and statistics, it’s about nurturing young minds, fostering a love of learning, and empowering students to become responsible citizens of the world.”

Reeves said the school system’s theme for the year is “thrive” and they had set goals to increase academic outcomes through a literacy lens, build professional development for new teachers, grow familiar engagement, and improve communication with stakeholders.

Following the school tour Reeves said, “After visiting classes at Cedar Ridge, and across the district, I can attest that our children are thriving in our public schools. Whether its adapting to new learning environments, exploring new subjects, building connections with fellow students — their growth is powerful.”

He informed that the county schools ranked 22 out of 115 statewide systems in overall academic performance. Reeves said that third through twelfth graders were six points above state average in overall proficiency and that Surry County is graduating 90.2% of its students which is roughly four percent above state average.

Reeves said that innovation is found in the options that students are given like an online magnet school, early college, STEM magnet school, a strong partnership with Surry Community College, and Surry-Yadkin Works.

“Our career and college promise program is so strong that our students earned over 4,000 credit and that was about $350,000 in tuition savings for our families which makes a huge difference in our rural community.”

Job programs such as Surry-Yadkin Works are, “Opening the doors of our businesses to students to learn outside the brick-and-mortar classroom where they are also earning as stipend, getting job skills, and making huge connections to our local community which is essential to growing rural North Carolina.”

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