Archive for November, 2014


A ‘Hole’ Lotta Special at Mt. Vernon


Left, Rob Harris-Cannon, foreground, produces a turkey from the fire pit as Mt. Vernon students look on. At right, students inspect the results.

You just don’t get much more Thanksgiving than what the folks at Mt. Vernon Middle School turned out on Nov. 25. And it wasn’t all about the turkey.

Turkey in the Hole Day is the school’s signature event, and this was its 38th consecutive year. Students and staff work together to cook turkeys in a fire pit then serve a Thanksgiving feast for parents and other guests.

What is this special day more about? The palpable connections among students, teachers, parents and volunteers. How they feel about their school.

How thankful they are.

“It’s awesome,” said seventh-grader Xaiviona Harrington. “I think it’s cool because I got to help with everything.”

“Xai” (pronounced Zay) also is thankful for the special attention she gets at the alternative school. Small classes. One-on-one instruction. The opportunity to build meaningful relationships with her classmates and teachers.



Mt. Vernon students and parents enjoy a tasty feast

It doesn’t take a whole lot of digging to witness the collaborative spirit at Mt. Vernon. But it does take a good bit to get at those turkeys.

Rob Harris-Cannon retired from Mt. Vernon last June after 28 years as a teacher. He’s overseen Turkey in the Hole Day since its inception, starting with a gig at Eckerd Wilderness Camp in the mid-1970s.

Each year, Harris-Cannon supervises the digging of the fire pit. This year, students helped build the pit the week or so before.

Seventeen turkeys wrapped in aluminum foil were buried in the pit overnight for slow cooking. The next day, Harris and volunteers – with students observing and helping out where safe and appropriate – excavated the fowl for the feast. A heapin’ helpin’ of sweet potatoes got much the same treatment.

“The greatest thing about this is seeing the kids get so involved,” said Harris-Cannon. “It’s a great educational experience for them.” He added that the lesson goes far beyond the Thanksgiving story, giving students a hands-on experience around American Indian culture from centuries ago.

Students helped transport the turkeys to the school’s cafeteria, where parents and volunteers provided all the trimmings. Dressing, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, desserts. It was all there, along with the requisite paper turkeys and other festive holiday decorations.

In the cafeteria, longtime Mt. Vernon teacher Vanette McKinney controlled traffic. All told, she expected about 300 students, parents and additional guests to be fed.

“It is a remarkable time together,” she said before dashing off to speak to guests. “They learn a lot of social skills. They love to help.”

Parents dined with their children and the children’s teachers and special guests, including WCPSS Board Chairperson Christine Kushner.

“I try to come to Turkey in the Hole every year,” said Kushner. “Meeting with the kids and the teachers who are here at Mt. Vernon really inspires me. And the food’s good, too!”

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

A Towering Influence over Young Lives

Campbell2 CampbellKids

‘Goal’ tending: Moore Square teacher assistant Marcus Campbell with colleague Niki Cooper, left, and with students.

Marcus Campbell is seven feet tall. But that’s not the only reason kids look up to him.

Another reason is his sense of humor. He’s also a great role model, and oh yeah — he’s a former professional basketball player.

Moore Square Magnet Middle School students think it’s cool that one of their teacher assistants used to play pro ball, and that he has to duck to go through doorways – and they’re right. But his positive influence on their lives is ever so much cooler.

“Mr. Campbell is like a big brother to me,” said seventh-grader Keyshawn Hough, who credits Campbell with helping him in all his subjects. “He tells me if I don’t learn it now, life will be a lot harder for me.”

Kids like Keyshawn are why Marcus Campbell gave up chasing hoops for changing lives.

“When I sat down and thought about a career choice, I thought about not me as an adult, but me as a kid,” he said. “I always wanted someone to be there and someone to provide that leadership.”

Life had its share of ups and downs for Campbell as a youngster. He stayed in school, remained persistent and did his best on and off the basketball court.

All of that ultimately worked in his favor. After four years on a full basketball scholarship at Mississippi State University, Marcus headed to the pros.

There were several seasons with the NBA Developmental League, including short stints with the Bobcats, Rockets and Kings. After that, seven years in Europe (Italy, Spain, France), then Uruguay, New Zealand, Qatar and Iran.

Those experiences (including a brief detainment in a troubled Qatar) make quite the story in and of themselves. But this story is about a man who returned from one great adventure to create another one by making a difference in young people’s lives.

Strong male role models were scarce for Campbell growing up. He knew there were too many kids out there just like him.

That’s why he came to Moore Square, and also why he’s an assistant basketball coach at Middle Creek High School.

“(Campbell) is great at telling students that character is just as important as the skill set is,” said Moore Square Principal Kengie Bass. “He’s been a great role model for our students, and he’s willing to work with all students. We just love having him here.”

Campbell plans to finish out his career in education and coaching. And he’s got a very good reason for it.

“I sleep better at night,” he said. “Knowing that something I wanted when I was a kid and didn’t have, I’m now able to give it to someone else.”





Holly Grove Media Specialist helps students learn about family history

Holly Grove Middle media specialist Kendra Allen participated in a collaboration between and LEARN NC, an outreach arm of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education. Allen was one of 10 educators who worked to create a multimedia how-to guide for teachers to use family history resources in their classrooms.

Allen used the guide to lead eighth graders in exploring their family histories.

“My hope was that my students would dive and thrive on their own curiosity to know more, find more, learn more,” Allen said. “I wasn’t disappointed. It was the most wholly engaged group of eighth grade students I had ever worked with, even though they were in their last weeks of middle school.” Continue Reading . . .

Wakefield High wins State Farm $100,000 grant

Wakefield High won $100,000 in State Farm’s CELEBRATE My DRIVE online contest.

Wakefield finished in the top five in the nation competing with more than 3,300 U.S. high schools. The school will celebrate with a check presentation ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on December 8 in the school gym.

The Celebrate My Drive contest encourages a school community to come together to compete for a grant while making a commitment to safe driving. Students, parents, faculty, family and friends at Wakefield joined together in mid-October to do something great for the school and support driver safety. The contest required school supporters make a daily commitment to safe driving on a State Farm website in the name of their school. Continue Reading . . .

Fifth-grade winners named for environmental poster contest

More than 200 fifth-graders from 19 WCPSS elementary schools competed in the Wetlands are Wonderful poster contest sponsored by the Wake Soil & Water Conservation District. Continue Reading . . .

WCPSS shares videos in schools for bus conduct and safety campaign

bus-safety1WCPSS elementary students, assistant principals and bus drivers worked together during November to create a Transportation safety campaign to use in WCPSS elementary schools.

The students and bus drivers recorded a series of short videos that focus on two important messages:
1) students should be safe at the bus stop and boarding/leaving the bus
2) students should be good bus riders

These issues were highlighted in September, when one student was killed and another seriously injured in accidents.

In October, the Board of Education heard of the difficulties WCPSS Transportation has in meeting the need for school bus drivers. Exit interviews of departing drivers mention student conduct on the bus as a contributing factor.

In video messages, students share tips for keeping students safe at bus stops and good conduct on the bus. Continue Reading . . .

Combs Elementary Principal Receives Prestigious Friday Medal

ms summers (1)A.B. Combs Leadership Elementary Magnet School Principal Muriel Summers has received one of the highest honors bestowed upon North Carolina educators. Summers has received the Friday Medal from the William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.

The annual award is presented by the North Carolina State University College of Education. It honors distinguished and longlasting contributions to education. Past winners include Gov. James Hunt and former WCPSS Superintendent Bill McNeal.

Summers led the creation of the state’s first leadership elementary school at Combs. The leadership model focuses on building cooperative relationships and nurturing responsibility, kindness and good judgment.

Combs Elementary is a diverse school comprising students from 64 countries. Summers has been principal there since 1998.

For more information visit

Career academies expand in WCPSS

More options are coming online for high school students who want to combine a specific career focus with strong academic preparation.

The addition of Career Academies at three high schools each this year and next year will bring the WCPSS total to 20.

Career and Technical Education officials are opening a Public Safety academy at Knightdale High, a Digital Media Academy at Millbrook High and an Information Technology academy at Southeast Raleigh High this year.

Next year, Garner High School plans to add a Fire and Safety Career Academy, and Wakefield High will have Digital Marketing. The new Apex Friendship also will open an academy, with the career area to be announced later.

“This is a really sharp tool in our toolbox that we know works well,” said David Wehbie, Director of Career and Technical Education.

Career academies combine courses that offer preparation for specific career areas with the core subjects necessary for graduation. They are designed to boost college and career readiness, and to help more students graduate.

The 2013-14 graduation rate for Career Academy students was 100 percent.

‘Bring Your Own Device’ Will Increase Student Access to Learning Technology

Before long, when you see certain students on their phones or tablets, they won’t necessarily be texting or gaming.

Students in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program will be encouraged to bring personal devices to school to use for learning activities. Thirteen schools are participating in a pilot that kicks off in January.

“School districts are becoming aware that BYOD serves a great purpose in that it allows students to turn their personal devices into learning devices while freeing up access to school computers,” said Marlo Gaddis, Senior Director of Instructional Technology and Library Media Services.


Wakefield Middle School Principal Jimmy Sposato, right, shares the excitement of his teachers around BYOD during a presentation by Assistant Superintendent for Academics Todd Wirt, left, and Gaddis.

Gaddis presented the BYOD pilot plan to members of the WCPSS Student Achievement Committee in a meeting held this afternoon. She said the program is gaining favor with school districts across the country.

WCPSS is working in partnership with the NC State University Friday Institute to offer professional development for BYOD teachers, as well as to ensure Internet safety and equity issues are addressed.

C’mon, Let Us Hear from You – SpeakUp!

Dear WCPSS Parent, Teacher, Student, Employee or Community Supporter:

Have you filled out the Project Tomorrow SpeakUp survey yet?

A – Of course! I did it the first day you notified me. Now leave me alone; I’m busy changing lives by achieving or supporting educational excellence.

B – No. Everything about my school or schools is perfect. I can’t think of a thing I would ever suggest for improvement.

C – Argh! I meant to do it and forgot. Thanks so much for the reminder, I’ll do it right now.

We are partnering with Project Tomorrow SpeakUp to learn more about what those we serve think about learning in our schools, specifically around how technology supports that learning. SpeakUp is an online survey for teachers, parents, students and community supporters.

WCPSS encourages everyone who cares about their school to take the survey. You can do so by visiting and following the directions to select your category (parent, teacher, student, etc.), and then to select your school for the survey.

IMPORTANT: Students must enter a password for access. That password is wake2014.
The survey will close on Dec. 19, but don’t worry! We’ll remind you (like this) … And if you’ve already completed it, Thanks!