Moving the Needle: Davie County Schools Recognizes Mebane Foundation for Contributions in Early Literacy through DavieLEADS 

By Jeanna Baxter White

(L to R) Nancy Scoggin, Barbie Brown, Amy Spade, Jennifer Lynde,  Larry Colbourne, Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, Jeanna White, Stephanie Nelson, Susan Domanski, and Peggy Nuckolls. 

The Mebane Foundation was honored to be recognized at the Davie County Board of Education meeting on March 1st for its role in supporting early childhood education in Davie County, as DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) comes to an end. The early learning and literacy initiative was funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Foundation. Established during the 2017-2018 school year, DavieLEADS has had two primary goals. The first is to increase kindergarten readiness to 90 percent by reaching and fostering the development of children at an early age (birth to kindergarten) through consistent curriculum, instruction, and experiences in preschool programs. The second goal is to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade to 80 percent by building capacity in staff, strengthening instructional strategies, and updating materials aligned with state standards K-3. Following are a few of the remarks and a thank you video created by Davie County Schools staff. 

A little over five years ago, Larry Colbourne and the Mebane Board challenged Davie County Schools to figure out what would move the needle in early literacy in Davie County Schools. Assistant Superintendent Jinda Haynes organized a series of round-table discussions between community leaders and educators who spent many hours discussing, looking at data, and collaborating about what would truly make a difference. The answer? Investing in people. 

(L to R) Jennifer Lynde, Jinda Haynes, and Peggy Nuckolls were recognized by Davie County Schools for leading the DavieLEADS initiative. 

“What it came down to was that there was no silver bullet, no magical quick fix of a program that we could buy or any piece of technology that would make a big difference,” said Jennifer Lynde, chief academic officer for DCS, during the presentation. “Instead we needed to invest in our people, our school administrators, our teachers, and our assistants, to build their capacity to teach literacy and build a strong reading foundation for our Pre-K through third-grade students. No matter what programs we were using, and no matter what state initiative we had at the time or the required assessments, we found the absolute value of coaching, not just providing professional development one-shot deals, but the importance of the follow-up conversations with support, resources, and modeling with individual staff members,  . . . and small groups. We now have more consistency than ever in our literacy practices across our Pre-K programs and our elementary schools that allows for ongoing professional development, PLC conversations, collaboration within and outside of individual schools, across grade levels, and across school buildings including private Pre-K sites and our Davie County public Pre-K sites.” 

Most importantly, the work we have done over the past five years is sustainable. . .  What makes DavieLEADS different is the majority of the funds invested were invested in people. Yes, we were able to purchase and build fidelity with programs like Letterland, HillRAP, and Heggerty, which are amazing, and build our students’ learning, But as we all know, programs change, they come and they go. It’s our teachers’ ability to teach the foundational components that we built upon no matter the program that is in place, that will be sustained.  We truly believe that the work we built through DavieLEADS will continue for many years to come. 

Lastly, there is trust. We have to emphasize this word because the partnership we have with the Mebane Foundation is built on trust. It is a very unique partnership. Sometimes we receive grants, and it honestly can be about the agenda of those providing the grant. Instead, these entire five years have been about kids, and what is best for kids. 

Larry and the Mebane Board have challenged us, they’ve asked us great questions to make us think forward and to reflect, but most importantly, they have trusted us to make the decisions we needed to make to do our work.

They have understood our world when we faced COVID, remote learning, and state assessments that changed at least three times, things not in our control. Always they have supported us, always they have trusted us, so the video you are about to watch speaks volumes.”

During the presentation, Peggy Nuckolls, director of title 1 and preschool services, recognized many who played a role in driving the DavieLEADS initiative forward, beginning with the Foundation. “Without their vision, guidance, challenge, and financial support to push us further, we could not have implemented this critical step in our school system.” 

“The Mebane Foundation staff, President Larry Colbourne, and Susan Domanski, office administrator, helped us to achieve collaboration and cooperation with the board and to stay on track with our purpose for this initiative. Jeanna White, writer and owner of Word Master Media Group, helped us to step to the next level by publicizing our work, which is when we became a leader among other counties searching for something to make a difference in their education community.” 

She thanked the Mebane Board for “being not only visionaries but compassionate with a clear perception,” and said, “Their challenging questions were always leading us and pushing us to become better and to think outside of the box and to explore the opportunities in front of us.”  

Nuckolls remarked that the Board had stressed the importance of finding the right people to support this important work and to build the right kind of relationships. “As we moved through Year 1 we knew we had done just that with coaches Stephanie Nelson, Amy Spade, and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez who brought our vision to life.” She ended by thanking DavieLEADS consultants Barbie Brown and Nancy Scoggin for “constructing a way to build positive relationships and for sharing their knowledge.”