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NCCAT leaders breathing easier: Cullowhee teaching center to get recurring funding

Dr. Richard Thompson is breathing a bit easier this semester. He’s not worrying about funding. Not wondering if the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching will slip into the abyss. 


It was a breath-holding summer for Thompson and his staff in Cullowhee. But since the General Assembly decided during its short session to include money in the state budget to continue funding the teaching center, its executive director is all smiles. 

“We’re really excited about that,” Thompson said. “And it was recurring, which is a really, really big issue.”

A couple of years ago, the NCCAT’s funding was kicked to non-recurring status. As the state budgets settled out this year, the center was eyeing the prospect of getting no funds and having to close its doors. 

With its funding restored to recurring status — meaning each fiscal year doesn’t bring on new crisis moment — the center can continue to offer professional development opportunities to North Carolina teachers. 

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“This adds some stability,” said Thompson. 

This stability is important for educators like Mallory Nickel, who teaches at Lee Early College High in Sanford. At a time when the education community has dished out plenty of criticism in response to education funding decisions made by state lawmakers, she considers the decision to fund the teaching center on an ongoing basis to be a positive sign out of Raleigh. It affords teachers like herself the opportunity to continue pursuing professional development. 

“Having something like NCCAT is actually really refreshing,” said Nickel. “It’s like, oh, the state does value you.”

Nickel has been through the center’s Success from the Start: How to Survive and Thrive Your First Three Years in the Classroom program. As the name implies, the course is designed for teachers at the onset of their career. 

“I love it,” Nickel said, explaining that she has been trying to put the knowledge gained at the teaching center into use in her classroom. “I’ve already drastically changed the how I teach.”

Through her involvement with the teaching center, Nickel also got involved with a project that aims to help teachers connect with one another. The project is twitter based and is called #nccatchat.

“It’s kind of like sending a mass text to people who have the same interest,” the teacher explained. “But you only have 140 characters to say what you want to say.”

South Macon Elementary School first-grade teacher Melissa Faetz attended NCCAT’s teacher leadership institute earlier this summer during a time when lawmakers were mired in budgetary wrangling and the center’s funding and future remained unclear. Even against such a backdrop, she described the time as an “amazing experience.”

“The time spent at NCCAT afforded us an opportunity to not only learn new strategies, but it is also provided us with time for reflection and rejuvenation,” Faetz explained. “During a time when there is so much negativity surrounding schools and teaching, NCCAT brought teacher leaders together from across the state and treated us as professionals.”

Faetz, a Region 8 Teacher of the Year, paints the teaching center as a bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape. She credits it with continuing to serve the state’s teachers at a time when other such opportunities are diminishing.

“With continuous budget cuts throughout the past few years there is very little funding left for teachers to receive professional development, which is vital in not only training teachers, but in reinvigorating teachers as well,” Faetz said. “NCCAT provides one of the few high-quality professional development programs that we as teachers have in North Carolina.”

That’s not news to Dr. Thompson. And he believes that such a notion is no longer foreign to state legislators either — the center’s director spent a good bit of time this summer in Raleigh stressing NCCAT’s importance. 

“They saw the quality of our work, and I think we were able to make our case with legislators,” Thompson said. “I think we were able to demonstrate that what we do makes a difference.”

With recurring funding in place, the center can now concentrate fully on its primary mission: to further the professional development of North Carolina teachers. 

“Teachers are the key. The quality of the teacher is the most important thing to a child’s education,” Thompson said. “Our mission hasn’t changed. We just hope that now with some stability and the support of state legislators over time we can really make a greater impact.”

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