Press release shared by the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, on Jan. 19:

Every new job has a learning curve. However when the new job is teaching, students simply cannot afford the time it takes to wait for a new teacher to master that learning curve. That is where the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s Beginning Teachers Program comes in.

Since 1997, NCCAT’s Beginning Teachers Program has helped the state’s newest educators quickly strengthen their professional competency and create the support networks vital for success. The results have been more effective teaching, less frustration and significantly higher retention rates for participating teachers. All of which deepens the talent pool for North Carolina students while reducing the cost of teacher turnover.

NCCAT’s Beginning Teachers actually consists of two programs: “NCCAT Connections,” a yearlong program for first-year teachers, and “Connect to Your Future: Celebrating Success in the Classroom,” a five-day residential seminar for second- and third-year teachers.

“The partnership with Rockingham County Schools and NCCAT remains one of the most active and vibrant teacher training partnerships I have experienced in my more than 20 years in education,” said Dr. Rodney Shotwell, superintendent of Rockingham County Schools. “Given that effective teaching increases student achievement, the support and professional development ‘NCCAT Connections’ provides creates a legacy in our schools.” Rockingham County Schools has contracted with NCCAT for the past two years to provide “NCCAT Connections” for about 30 first-year teachers.

In addition to Rockingham County, “NCCAT Connections” programs are also taking place this academic year with beginning teachers in Bertie, Clay, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, McDowell, and Swain counties.

“NCCAT Connections” consists of ten monthly sessions at which NCCAT faculty cover everything from common concerns to the latest brain-based research to strategies for teaching diverse student populations. As Mischa Miles, a first-year teacher at Dalton McMichael High School in Rockingham County put it, “ ‘NCCAT Connections’ picks up where college leaves off. It helps you adjust (and most importantly understand the adjustments) to life as a teacher.”

In addition, participants spend one weekend at NCCAT’s Cullowhee campus for an intensive course on children living in generational poverty. An NCCAT faculty member observes each beginning teacher in the classroom. Throughout the year, beginning teachers observe a master teacher.

For Sarah Dunlap at Wentworth Elementary School in Rockingham County, the entire “NCCAT Connections” experience has made her first year a good one. “I know my content,” said Dunlap, who teaches music. “However, teaching in a school system is about more than content. I have already successfully put in place several of the classroom management strategies.”

For Amy Steere, who began teaching last August at Stoneville Elementary School in Rockingham County, it was the “NCCAT Connections” weekend dedicated to poverty that has helped her most. “I am older than most first-year teachers,” says Steere, who is the parent of teenagers. “And I feel that my master’s degree program prepared me well for the classroom. However, 15 out of 20 of my students are on free or reduced lunch. The weekend at NCCAT helped me see things from their perspective. As a teacher, it isn’t just about the curriculum, you have to consider the whole package with a child.”

For second- and third-year teachers, NCCAT’s Beginning Teachers Program offers “Connect to Your Future: Celebrating Success in the Classroom.” Held over five days at either NCCAT’s Ocracoke or Cullowhee campus, this seminar covers many of the same topics as “NCCAT Connections,” including concentrated sessions on students in poverty. In a professional conference environment, these relatively new teachers get the time, space and guidance to reinforce essential skills, strengthen instructional practices and build their professional networks.

Stacy Baily, a teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in Wake County, said of her “Connect to Your Future: Celebrating Success in the Classroom” seminar experience, “Not only am I seeing improvement in my students’ scores and attitudes, but also I am a happier teacher.”

Both programs of the Beginning Teachers Program receive funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation of Winston-Salem, with special emphasis on providing support for programs in and teachers from low-wealth districts. “The hardest time for teachers is those first few years,” said Leslie Winner, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. “NCCAT’s Beginning Teachers Program helps teachers hone their classroom skills faster, so they can be more effective in helping students learn. They also make it more likely that new teachers will remain in teaching longer. This is an important investment in our state’s teachers.”

Shotwell, whose Rockingham district is low-wealth, couldn’t agree more. “I know firsthand the impact NCCAT opportunities provided me both as a teacher and as a school administrator,” he said. “To be able to afford the same opportunity to all our beginning teachers is immeasurable.”

The participants from Rockingham County are: Curtis Bigelow, Robyn Bondurant, Megan Doldron, Sarah Dunlap, Logan Fisher, Crystal Golden, Elizabeth Grafton, Heather Haynes, Sara Holt, Krystal Hooker, Amy Jamison, Sarah Johnson, Brian Knowles, Cecil Lake, Katie Lawson, Lauren Marsh, Mischa Miles, Tom Murphy, Sam Phillips, Erin Roche, Raquel Sanchez, Will Smith, Amy Steere, Ryan Stevens, Renee Weddle, Cassidy Willet, Cayce Wood, Rebekah Wright and Tom Sharpe, beginning teachers coordinator for Rockingham County.

NCCAT, which has campuses in Cullowhee and Ocracoke, positively impacts public education by providing extraordinary professional development for North Carolina teachers throughout their careers. NCCAT’s instructional programming is designed to give teachers the support and resources they need to be highly effective and enhance student achievement. NCCAT conducts interdisciplinary, content-specific, residential seminars for pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers in the environmental and biological sciences, arts, humanities, mathematics, leadership and technology. For more information about NCCAT, visit or call (828) 293-5202.

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Angie Newsome was the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at

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