CHAPEL HILL, NC—Continuing his focus on leadership and the importance of relationships for the success of our students, James Barrett, candidate for NC Superintendent of Public Instruction, graduated from the North Carolina Rural Center’s Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI) XXIX on Thursday.
For 29 years, REDI has trained almost 1,300 North Carolinians from all 100 counties on leadership and asset-based economic development. Barrett was a non-traditional student for the Rural Center, but noted ”everyone welcomed me to contribute to the conversations about community development. They delivered excellent leadership training in areas that I’ve not had as much exposure to and a great experience all around. I’m glad they are making a positive difference for our rural communities and proud to be associated with their work.”
Asset-based community and economic development is all about focusing on what communities have to offer rather than gaps. “Our public schools can and should be a key asset for our rural communities to drive economic development,” Barrett said. “As state superintendent, I will be both willing and able to work with local communities to deliver great education in support of community and economic development.”
At the ceremony marking the end of the institute, Laura Privette of Wilkes County, chosen by her classmates to give a closing address, noted that the state’s rural communities did not cause the loss of manufacturing jobs, the over-prescription of addictive drugs, or many of the other challenges they face. But leaders from REDI will recognize the assets the state has in our rural communities—from their natural beauty to spaces ready for advanced manufacturing—and the opportunities that exist to create a strong economy based on good jobs.
REDI XXIX consisted of 30 leaders from across North Carolina, who came together for nine days over three months to learn from experts in various leadership and economic development efforts, and create plans to apply new thinking right away to problems they identify in their communities. Barrett solidified his thinking about how N.C. public schools can support local economic development in our rural areas by continuing to focus on partnerships with community colleges, so that students receive skills required for great jobs in rural communities and the colleges proactively engage the community with our pre-K–12 schools, so that students learn the uniqueness and value of each community. The jobs that will benefit Montgomery County are not the same as Edgecombe County, so we should expect our districts are going to respond differently to meet future demand for good jobs, but always collaboratively with community leaders.
“To meet the needs of most jobs now and in the future, we need to think beyond a high school diploma. But that doesn’t always mean an expensive four-year degree,” Barrett said. “Associate degrees and rigorous certificates from our strong community colleges in North Carolina prepare young people for successful lives every day in our state today. We need to increase the partnerships we have today and ensure that all students know that we value all types of post-secondary education. We need ‘yes, and’ solutions to meet the needs of all students from pre-K through post-high school.
“At REDI, I was excited to learn alongside leaders from Jackson County to Brunswick, from Wilkes to Pasquotank. I don’t fully buy into a clichéd urban-rural divide. We all want success for our communities, and the leaders I met from rural North Carolina are doing the right work to see more success in the future. I believe our public schools in all of those communities can and must support their development efforts so that all of North Carolina is successful. As state superintendent, I will not rest until that is happening everywhere.”
About James Barrett: James Barrett attended elementary, middle, and high school in public schools in North Carolina, as did his wife and children. He has served for eight years on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, including two years as chair of the board. Alongside his elected office and longtime volunteer experience as a youth group leader, basketball and baseball coach, and school tutor, Barrett has spent his career in corporate `information technology leadership, managing large teams and projects with significant budgets—crucial skills for a state superintendent overseeing more than $13 billion in public school spending in the state and 1,000 employees in the Department of Public Instruction.
About the NC Rural
For more than 30 years, the NC Rural Center has worked to develop, promote, and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians. The Center serves the state’s 80 rural counties, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources.