May 29, 2013
State Senate takes axe to Ocracoke Center for teachers
By CATHERINE KOZAKCoastal Review Online
quite six years ago, North Carolina officially opened the eastern
campus of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching at
the beautifully restored Coast Guard Station on Ocracoke Island. The
state Senate now wants to shutter the place up.
thrilled that the $7 million state-funded renovation maintained the
station’s authentic appearance and was being used for the innovative
teacher enrichment programs, preserving its historic character while
attracting more business to the island.
In 2011, the
N.C. Coastal Federation helped restore the eroding soundfront shoreline
at the station. Several acres of wetlands were built, protecting the
state ferry channel and passage for the Coast Guard, which has
maintained docks at the station.
Now, with no money for the
center’s two campuses included in the proposed state Senate budget
released last week, the fate of the coastal campus is up in the air.
a great resource for Ocracoke as well as North Carolina,” said Alton
Ballance, an island native and center staff member, who has conducted
popular seminars at the site.
The professional development
program, available at no-cost for teachers statewide, offers numerous
week-long seminars on the arts, humanities and science and provides
advanced educational tools and coping strategies for contemporary
challenges. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1985, at the
encouragement of then-Gov. Jim Hunt, the mission of center is to retain
high-quality teachers in K-12 public schools by keeping them engaged
and challenged professionally.
“It’s a program that does not
exist anywhere else in the country,” Ballance said. “We have always
been proud that North Carolina is a leader in this kind of
Ballance conducted the first seminar taught at the Ocracoke campus, “Salty Dogs and the Lore of the Sea.”
Franklin, NCCAT’s executive director, said that she understands that
the western campus in Cullowhee, opened since 1985, would become part
of adjacent Western Carolina University. But she does not know what
lawmakers would want to do with the Ocracoke site.
“I’m not sure what they’re thinking,” she said.
Coast Guard vacated the three-story, 17,000 square-foot Ocracoke
station in 1996, and it sat empty for years. The 1.55-acre property and
the buildings were transferred from the federal government to the state
five years later, with the understanding that the site would be used
for educational purposes. The National Park Service and the Coast Guard
still have rights to portions of the property.
Ten years after
it was abandoned, the renovation of the building began. The interior
was remade into 24 bedrooms and spaces for seminars and dining. It
opened for its first seminar in 2007.
Situated between Silver
Lake and the Pamlico Sound, the center boasts a spectacular view of the
fishing village and the Ocracoke Lighthouse. The handsome building,
painted gleaming white and meticulously maintained, today looks like a
Hollywood version of the original 1940 Coast Guard Station.
the state took over the site, the shoreline along the Pamlico Sound was
eroded to the point that the building would be at risk during a storm.
It looked unkempt, ragged and unhealthy.
With a grant from
Restore America’s Estuaries, secured though the federation, the center
and the federation partnered in conducting seminars for educators about
the local ecosystem. Participants and local volunteers then planted the
new wetlands on the re-graded shoreline, which also had
newly-constructed breakwater sills to protect the plantings from waves.
In the process of securing the shoreline, the $1.5 million wetlands
restoration also has created wildlife habitat and nursery area for
“It’s in great shape,” Ballance said. “It’s another access point. The shoreline and its marsh are doing their job.”
Ballance, a former English teacher at the Ocracoke School and the owner
of a bed and breakfast on the island, said that the center is so much
more than its gorgeous coastal or mountain locations. The real value of
the program, he said, is what it ultimately gives to the state’s K-12
students through the quality of the alumni’s teaching. Teachers are
immersed for a week in a supportive, enriching environment to learn
about a broad range of topics and issues that they then bring back to
Some programming is specifically focused on
helping beginning teachers across the state. Some of it is focused on
enriching understanding of culture, history, and arts. And some of it
is focused on contemporary issues in the classroom and beyond. All of
it helps prevent burn-out and helps keep teachers excited about
teaching, Ballance said.
“There is no other organization that
can put teachers together for a few days and really feel the pulse of
what’s going on,” he said. “It’s much more about technology and it’s
about critical thinking and ultimately preparing these students to be
better prepared for the workforce.”
The program also helps
educators meet the Common Core State Standards and offers
interdisciplinary seminars in STEM, teacher jargon for science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics teaching, as well as
leadership, communication, and the arts.
“This was some of the
most solid development that teachers have ever received,” said Darcy
Grimes, the 2012-2013 North Carolina Teacher of the Year. “It
allows teachers to collaborate, to create connections and to network
with other teachers.”
Grimes, a third grade teacher at Bethel
Elementary School in Watauga County who has participated in seminars at
both campuses, said the stimulating environment and shared insight and
knowledge ultimately makes a better teacher. If the program
closed, she said, the impact would be felt statewide.
“It’s going to be hurting students,” she said.
seminars are offered to all public K-12 teachers in the state,
including those at charter schools. According to information provided
by the center, in 2010-2011, more than 2,500 teachers and
administrators were served in 105 seminars. About 200 first-year
teachers also attended special induction programs, providing about 30
contact hours –typically over four days-per person, resulting in more
teachers staying in the profession.
After cutting its budget
by $2 million in 2008, the legislature in 2011 slashed the center’s
budget 50 percent to $3 million. Thirty full-time and 11 hourly
positions were cut in Cullowhee and two were cut in Ocracoke, and 75
percent of the professional development seminars at both campuses were
eliminated. Of them, six of Ocracoke’s nine fall seminars were
In a 2009 article in the Carolina Journal, which
referred to the center as a “teacher paradise,” state Sen. Pro Tempore
Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, then the Senate minority leader, said
that education funding should address core needs, and that the center
was not one of them.
“It’s something we shouldn’t be spending
a whole lot of money on when we have shortages in the budget and are
looking at raising taxes in a recessionary economy,” he said in the
The Carolina Journal is a publication of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Raleigh.
costs, including food, books and lodging, are paid for by the state for
qualified educators whose applications are accepted. Recent figures
were not available, but in 2006, a five-day seminar cost about $1,800 a
person. That same year, it also cost the state about $12,000 to
replace a teacher.
But Franklin said that the center does much
more than offer seminars. Over the years, the mission has diversified,
including serving as an intermediary between business and the state’s
school systems. The center is also a resource for educational
groups looking for solutions for issues they are confronting, saving
the state the need to hire a private consultant.
have worked at transforming NCCAT,” she said. “After we had to make
those cuts in staffing, we really looked at how we can be responsive to
what teachers have to do right now. We’re looking at multiple ways we
can serve teachers that are not campus-based.”
focusing on the “teach-the-teacher” model, drop-out prevention,
leadership skills, and blended face-to-face and online learning
opportunities. Staff also goes to the school districts and communities
“We are really looking at helping teachers be 21st
–century teachers,” she said. “We are looking at ways we can reach a
Franklin said she is hopeful that the state
House budget will restore center funds. The center has asked businesses
and groups in the state to sign on to a letter to House leaders
requesting that funding be restored in that chamber's budget. Some
teachers have started a petition in support of the center.
now that its budget has been eliminated by the Senate, Franklin is
finding that nearly all fundraising has come to a skidding halt.
grant proposals include The Development Foundation of NCCAT Inc., for
$402, 421, she said. The center also has a confirmed continuing
contract of about $180,000 from the state Department of Public
Instruction for NCCAT’s Data Literacy Initiative.
For fiscal year 2012-2013, NCCAT received a total of $412,869 in contracts, and $270,000 in grants.
is happening is it’s preventing us from having a lot of outside funds
come in, and I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she
said about the budget snub.
“When funders and donors see that, unfortunately, it makes them extremely reluctant to give.”
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)