Greene County Schools with Superintendent Patrick Miller

This week is national Teacher Appreciation Week, and National Teacher Day is celebrated today —…

This week is national Teacher Appreciation Week, and National Teacher Day is celebrated today — May 4, 2021. To all of our teachers, we are thankful for you every day and never more so than this year. We see you, we honor your leadership and public service, and we lift up the lasting impact you have on our students, our state, and our future.

This article about Greene County Schools continues our in-depth look at school districts across North Carolina. Many people only know the school their child attends or the school where they teach. Very few people understand how schools within districts are different, much less how districts are different. We want you to “go and see” these places with us.

On March 31, 2021, I visited (almost) all of the schools in the district along with Patrick Miller, the superintendent, and Frank Creech, the chief academic officer, finding along the way messages of thanks for the educators who serve our students day in and day out, even during a pandemic.

Greene County Schools

About 21,000 people call Greene County homeof them, 5,618 are registered Democrats, 2,459 are registered Republicans, and 3,281 are registered unaffiliated. Snow Hill — likely named for the white sands along Contentnea Creek — is the county seat, and 58.7{d336d22fa8618a5f7552de079ea4a1d7eae449cfa6c211953fbc87b3a4dc0428} of the residents in the county are white, 36.8{d336d22fa8618a5f7552de079ea4a1d7eae449cfa6c211953fbc87b3a4dc0428} are Black, and 15.7{d336d22fa8618a5f7552de079ea4a1d7eae449cfa6c211953fbc87b3a4dc0428} are Hispanic/Latinx. The county covers 265 square miles, just a little bit smaller than Charlotte, and 20{d336d22fa8618a5f7552de079ea4a1d7eae449cfa6c211953fbc87b3a4dc0428} live in poverty. There are three employers in the county with more than 100 employees: the Department of Public Safety (which runs the Greene Correctional Institute), Greene County Public Schools, and the County of Greene.

The district serves just under 3,000 students, who are about equally white, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx. Given the percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged, the district qualifies for the community eligibility provision, which means all kids get breakfast and lunch free.

Miller is respected among superintendents. He serves on EducationNC’s board, but he also serves as chair of the Low-Wealth Schools Consortium and chair of the North Carolina Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC). He served on the Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound, Basic Education and is the past president of the North Carolina Alliance for School Leadership Development (NCASLD).

When Miller was graduating from Greene Central High School in 1988, he didn’t plan to become the district’s superintendent. But his children, who attended public schools in Greene County too, are the eighth generation of Millers to call the county home. Miller graduated from UNC in 1993 (earning $20,000 as a first-year teacher) and then taught music and theater arts for 10 years — which explains why he listens to Broadway music driving from school to school. He went on to earn a master’s of school administration before serving as principal of West Greene Elementary from 2005-08 and then becoming the superintendent in January 2008. He received his doctorate in 2011, and he was named the A. Craig Phillips NC Superintendent of the Year in 2019.

Here is what I have observed. He’s a man with vision for all that education can be who tells himself he doesn’t always have the right words — but if you get him fired up about students, watch out. He proves himself wrong in those moments with a fiery passion that is unmatched.

His is a story of believing leaders need to be supported. Students in their learning. Educators in their classroom. Principals in their school leadership. He notes the support he has received during his tenure as superintendent, including that of his wife — Becky, a music teacher — and the chair of his board — Patricia Lee Adams, who has been chair the whole time he has been superintendent.

“Nobody leaves here for a lack of support,” says Miller, noting the district employs all kinds of interventionists from instructional technologists to literacy facilitators to STEM directors to math coaches in addition to nurses, counselors, and speech therapists.

If you look up Greene County Schools, it will look like there are six schools in the district, but there are really eight because the district has a freestanding pre-K center and an alternative school. According to the formula our state uses to grade schools, in the 2018-19 school year, three were D schools, two were C schools, and one was an A school. One school met growth and two others exceeded growth. The district is a good case study on why the school performance formula needs to be at least tweaked.

In 2017, AASA, the national school superintendents association, conducted a study of innovative practices in K-12 districts across the country. Twenty-five districts were identified for innovative approaches impacting student learning. Greene County Schools was one of the districts.

The study found, “As a high poverty district in North Carolina, Greene County Schools confronts funding and equity issues constantly. Yet, they have been fortunate to have leadership relentlessly committed to serving all students. This fierce promise, when faced with budget constraints, has brought forth an unwavering will to find a way. The spirit of Greene County Schools is one of ‘together, we can do it’ optimism and resolve, as well as one of great inspiration to schools that feel stuck or blocked by resource limitations.”

Miller says, “Whenever a teacher has an idea, we don’t ever really shoot it down.” He says the superintendent’s job is to get to “yes.”

Here is his thank you to teachers in his district and beyond.

Meet the educators and schools in Greene County.

Greene County Schools Pre-K Center

Yuvonka Davis — the wife of Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene — is the director of the GCS Pre-K Center. The Center has 10 classrooms serving about 165 pre-K students, including a virtual classroom, “3 school” — a classroom for 3-year-olds — a classroom for exceptional children, and PSL — preschool to support literacy where parents can earn a GED.

Here is Davis’s thank you to teachers.

Meet Tonya King. King is a teacher’s assistant at the Pre-K Center. She works 7:15-3:30 at the center then 3:45-10:30 at Food Lion, while also working on her teaching license. She has a 3.7 GPA.