Former North Carolina Governor James G. Martin and longtime Public School Forum leaders John Dornan and Jo Ann Norris received the 2016 Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award at the Forum’s annual gala last Thursday, May 19. More than 400 educators, business leaders, government officials and other supporters of public schools attended the event at the Raleigh Convention Center. The gala also marked the Forum’s 30th Anniversary.
The Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award is given each year to exemplary leaders who have displayed innovative, creative, effective leadership for public education in North Carolina. The award is named in honor of the late Dr. Jay Robinson, one of our state’s most distinguished education leaders. In a career spanning more than 50 years, Dr. Jay Robinson was a teacher, coach, principal, superintendent, a vice president in the UNC system, chair of the State Board of Education, and the Forum’s first president.
Governor Martin is North Carolina’s only two-term Republican governor, serving as the state’s chief executive from 1985 to 1993. Before his election as governor, Martin served 12 years in Congress and six years on the Mecklenburg County Commission. He began his professional career as a chemistry professor at Davidson College.
As governor, Martin pushed for increased spending on public schools and improved teacher salaries. In five of his 8 years as Governor, the share of the state budget invested in public education increased. He was an early advocate of career ladders for teachers and launched a new day care initiative, an anti-dropout program targeting additional resources to disadvantaged preschoolers, and a campaign against illiteracy.
In his remarks, Governor Martin spoke of the need to “put schools first,” recounting his family’s longstanding support for the state’s public schools and framing public education as a bedrock duty of government, along with improving roads and paving the way for economic progress.
Governor Martin said that while the legislature was primarily the other party while he served, “we would compete over who could do the most for public schools”. “My theme was ‘Better Schools, Better Roads, Better Jobs’ and these three all worked together in a definitive triangle and stood strong together.”
Governor Martin said the key is to put schools first. “If you put public schools first, you don’t have to worry about raising taxes for public schools,” said Martin. If you fund education first, including community colleges and the universities, there’s plenty of money available until you get to your bottom priorities and “who is going to raise taxes for your 24th priority.” Martin concluded saying “if you put the first things first, it will all work out.”
Governor Martin also paid tribute to former Governor Jim Hunt, who he pointed out was both his predecessor and successor as Governor. To rousing applause and laughter from the audience, Martin wryly noted that the Forum had honored Governor Hunt last year and wondered if the group might honor him again next year.
John Dornan and Jo Ann Norris led the Forum from its inception, serving together as Executive Director and Associate Executive Director for nearly 25 years. Both started their careers as teachers, eventually moving outside the classroom but remaining impassioned advocates for students and teachers throughout their careers.
Under their leadership, the Forum became the state’s most trusted and respected source of education research, policy analysis, and high-quality, innovative programs like the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, the Collaborative Project, the Institute for Educational Policymakers, North Carolina’s chapter of the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), and the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs.
In his remarks, John Dornan shared his dream for the future: “20 years from now…people will gather celebrating the Forum’s 50th anniversary, and speaker after speaker will recount how the Forum played an instrumental role in rebuilding a golden triangle of belief, a vision for a better North Carolina that presumed education was its bedrock.”
Jo Ann Norris recounted her theme when she was NC Teacher of the Year: “I am the best teacher I know.” “If a teacher can look in the mirror every morning and say I am the best teacher I know, you probably will be.” Norris also paid tribute to John Dornan and said joining him in that “empty house” that was the first office of the Public School Forum was the best career decision she ever made. “Thank you Public School Forum for lighting my way.”
The Forum specially commissioned Ben Owen, a North Carolina native and well-known ceramic artist, to create custom works of pottery for each honoree. Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston and Forum Chairman Dr. Michael D. Priddy presented the works to the honorees at the gala.
Clockwise from top: Dudley Flood, 2009 Jay Robinson Award Recipient and Education Consultant speaks about the legacy of Jay Robinson; Gerry Hancock, Attorney, Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP and Founding Chairman, Public School Forum of North Carolina, introduces John Dornan; Linda Little, Retired North Carolina educator and NC Teaching Fellows Commissioner 1986-2015, introduces Jo Ann Norris; Howard Haworth, Chairman and CEO (Retired), Drexel Heritage Furniture, Chair Emeritus, North Carolina State Board of Education, and Former North Carolina Secretary of Commerce, introduces Governor Martin.
In his introductory remarks, Forum President Keith Poston paid tribute to teachers in attendance: “There is not a single day I do not think about all of you. It is truly the privilege of my life to speak up for you.”
The Forum is grateful to our sponsors and everyone who attended the event for joining us to honor this year’s award recipients and celebrate the Forum’s first 30 years, and for their continued support of our work.