A Superintendent’s View — Dr. Jeana Conley

In the 2021-22 school year, North Carolina Education Corps is partnering with 24 PSUs (public school units) to help plan, recruit, and support high-impact literacy tutoring, to extend the impact of teachers and support K-3 students.

NCEC plans to partner with 35 PSUs for the 2022-23 school year.

We meet with district and school leaders, educators, and corps members to continually improve our partnership and program delivery. Thank you Dr. Jeana Conley, Superintendent of Cherokee County Schools, for allowing us to share our January 2022 interview which is excerpted below.

Click to download our complete interview.


Dr. Conley, how did you know NC Education Corps would be a good fit for Cherokee County Schools?

I owe that to our principals. We have 13 schools, so we have to rely on site-based management. Our principals all subscribe to the same leadership philosophy — if you’re in our schools, you are “one of us.”

We’ve tried over the last couple of years to become systemic in terms of our pedagogy, how we deliver learning. It just made sense. Especially because of the Science of Reading training that our corps members receive from NC Education Corps, this is a perfect match with what we were already implementing here.

NC Education Corps partnerships director Pam Hartley and learning coach Kelley Wilson discuss program implementation with principal Patricia Mathews at Peachtree Elementary in Cherokee County Schools.

Thanks to ESSER funds, there is no better opportunity to acquire — with NC Ed Corps supporting in hiring and training — to make sure you have vetted, educated, teachable people ready to work as tutors. It has worked so well so early in each of our schools that we said we just had to replicate this and grow our program.


What was the early process like, and what can you say about corps members working as tutors now?

I thought we had done a really good job of recruiting as many volunteers as possible, but NC Education Corps gave us the ability to hone that and make sure that someone approaching us isn’t just someone who will be around occasionally, but someone who is fully “instructional.” 

What NC Ed Corps does is give a tutor the confidence to feel like they can do what we are asking them to do with students in our schools, as a member of our staff.

NC Education Corps member Henry Intemann, or "Mr. Henry" as students call him, engages students in small-group tutoring in Cherokee County Schools
Corps member Henry Intemann takes aim at reading skills for a small group in the “Garden Room” at Peachtree Elementary.

The ability to give students more personalized attention, especially with a person trained to identify where they are in the reading process, and how to get them from point A to point B? That’s priceless.

If we didn’t have ESSER funding, I would be scrambling to make sure we could continue this program, finding the funding, because we just have to do it.


What would you say to fellow district leaders about the value of an additional layer of support in your schools within a strategic partnership like this?

Every teacher, principal, and superintendent is desperately aware of how important it is that we make the most of each day, of each opportunity our students deserve and have a right to enjoy.

I remember as a principal long before COVID, we were offering an offsite activity and I had a teacher who was absolutely resistant for what I had thought were the wrong reasons. In tears, she said to me, “You don’t understand. I only have so many instructional days to get them ready for what they have to encounter.”

This display in the workroom at Murphy Elementary encourages everyone to look out for one another, including NC Education Corps members who support students as reading tutors with Cherokee County Schools.

Even before COVID, educators were super aware of limits on our time with students, and now they’ve had so much time stolen from them. 

The traditional method of just trying to add more learning on top of children isn’t going to work. 

We are having to edit what’s important and what’s being presented, so children can develop skills more quickly, more efficiently. We’re having to walk before we crawl, in some instances, with a lot of our objectives in school.

I think that message comes across with principals, as we try to develop our pedagogy like a heat-seeking missile that goes where it’s most needed at any given time. That’s exactly what NC Education Corps provides for us.


How are high-impact tutors helping Cherokee County Schools with early grades literacy?

Facing restrictions from the continued loss of instructional time stolen by COVID up to the present, with occasional quarantines and school closures, we realized our goals and objectives have to be edited down to the most essential skills. 

We are also working on acceleration, not remediation, because we know we can’t look back, and we have to push forward to help children get where they need to be.

NC Education Corps team members collaborate with district curriculum leaders to review and improve the partnership.

NC Education Corps is able to help us accelerate learning by giving students the repetition of skills they so desperately need in K-2 and K-3 reading. They can laser-focus on students who fall into gaps, while the teacher works to move an entire class forward toward benchmarks in instruction. 

In 1-on-1 and small group instruction, NC Ed Corps tutors help those students get what they need to make up those gaps and keep making progress.


You could address students’ needs in many ways. Why NC Education Corps, and why now?

In educational leadership, we constantly struggle to find three things:

1) personnel
2) trained personnel, and
3) the ability to pay for trained personnel.

ESSER has allowed us to stop worrying about the funding for a brief time, and it has allowed us to get proof-of-concept as far as making this new resource work. 

The value that NC Education Corps brought to the table was being able to help us find and train the personnel, taking that completely off our plates. We’re being served up people who are ready to hit the ground running, and that’s extremely valuable. 

What we’ve found, with ESSER and other funds coming down the pike, is that money can buy you a lot of stuff, but stuff doesn’t really get you anywhere. 

We need to invest in people. Since NC Ed Corps has helped us invest in more people in our community, this absolutely benefits our students in many, many ways.

Dr. Conley meets with Associate Superintendent Kim Gibson and NC Education Corps learning coach Kelley Wilson, to discuss the continuous improvement process for corps members working for Cherokee County Schools.

You have people who are not only trained and committed to the pedagogy (that we are forced to implement very differently, because of time lost due to COVID), but who are also community members committed to the students in your community as well.

And uniquely, NC Ed Corps has helped us find folks who didn’t necessarily fit the mold of a “typical” tutor, but who have a lot of life experience doing other things. 

One of our employees found thanks to NC Ed Corps had previously helped to run a group home for older autistic adults. Who would have thought that would translate into skills for teaching literacy to children in K-2? 

It has worked beautifully because of the commitment of this person, and NC Ed Corps helped us find new people by marketing to folks in a way we had not been able to before.

It is very much an investment we think is worth taking a risk on right now, and one that I am confident Cherokee County Schools will fight to sustain when ESSER funds are no longer available.

I know the term “learning loss” is out there, and I’m not sure I like that because when you’ve lost something that means you have to go find it. We didn’t lose learning; we have lost instructional time, and we have to find ways to make up time.

Students’ ability to learn is still there, and it’s our job to make sure they have access to the best during that time.


Click to download our complete interview with Dr. Conley.