Stories from the Tour

Thanks to Leslie Abbott for capturing these stories and photos from the We Heart Public Schools tour! Leslie is driving the Tour RV across all 100 counties in North Carolina this year. Read more here.








February 17, 2021

At first, the Bertie County Tour stop seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. Enter Shuronia Bryan. Shuronia attended the virtual Thursday Night Listening Tour Session for the week Bertie was scheduled, and decided that the show must go on! She reached out to the Superintendent and got permission to hold the event the following week at the Bertie County Schools Central Office. She worked with NCAE to do outreach to members in Bertie. She made up some cute little snack bags to hand out with the We Heart Tour swag. With only a few days of prep, IT WAS ON!

And here’s the other cool thing. Cleta Harrell from Martin County NCAE drove over to support the effort! Fresh from hosting Martin County’s We Heart Tour stop a few days earlier, Cleta jumped into action – tag-teaming with Shuronia to wave over school employees coming out of work, field their questions and gather their contact information to follow up. It was a true act of cross-county, Northeast NCAE solidarity!

Many thanks to both Shuronia Bryan and to Cleta Harrell for their feats of derring do! It’s terrific that Bertie County was able to be part of the We Heart Public Schools Tour!!


March 23, 2021

Honestly, this day is a bit of a blur for me. I had gotten my first Covid vaccine two days prior (coincidentally right across the street from where the Tour event was!) and my brain’s ability to multitask was at about 85% of my normal capacity.

But oh, what a happy blur! Robeson President Dee Grissett and Member Organizer Audrey Strong together are a bit like a comedy duo – Dee the clear-eyed “straight man” and Audrey bringing the good-natured zaniness. Their comfortable energetic compatibility set the tone for the whole Tour Stop. And Bladen President Celeste Lennon is one of the most gracious people I have ever met. She also infused the event with a kindness and respect that was lovely.

This Tour stop was a get-out-of-your-car-and-take-part event. There were people to see, photos to take, raffles to participate in, swag to snag. But the beating heart of this event were the Lovable Local Leaders from both counties. The honoring was so deeply genuine. I saw more moist eyes at this event than I have at any other so far. It is so moving to see people being recognized for their contributions.

The cherry on top of this fine day was two teachers who drove together to the Tour stop expressly for the purpose of joining RCAE/NCAE. O.M.G. It’s almost like another kind of Lovable Leader recognition – the ultimate recognition of RCAE’s contributions. Of course, we fussed over those two aplenty. We were delighted and so were they!

Thanks to the Robeson Tour Team President Dee Grissett, Beginning Teacher Organizer Natasha Ellison, Treasurer Peggy Locklear, Building Rep Chrystal Roberts, Secretary Ralph Shoemaker Secretary, and Member Organizer and Building Rep Audrey Strong.

And thanks to BCAE President Celeste Lennon, Vice President Areda Rogers and Treasurer

Yolanda Freeman.











March 12, 2021

The We <3 Public Schools Tour is about so many things. Community is one of them. It has been delightful to watch old friends see each other again in person after a long while, and also to see strangers meet for the first time and get excited about what they have in common and the potential of connecting more in the future. It’s also super cool for our educators statewide to see their colleagues, county by county, as the Tour moves through NC – and feel a part of something big and meaningful. Celebration is another crucial aspect of the Tour. Having the statewide NCAE arrive locally, in a crazy cute RV, with fun NCAE swag, usually with some music and dancing, declaring LOUDLY and PROUDLY how much WE PUBLIC SCHOOLS and APPRECIATE PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES is heart-warming and soul-lifting.

Another important point of the Tour is to build the strength of NCAE. Each stop is developed jointly by state, regional and local folks, crafted around the needs and vision of County local leadership to engage educators in their counties. We want to help raise the profile of NCAE community by community, build organizational momentum, attract new members, expand and deepen local leadership, strengthen ties within NCAE at every level.

So why am I talking about all of this for Craven County’s Tour stop? Because TWO people volunteered that day to be new Building Reps! So exciting! Craven County Association of Educators had already been rolling up its sleeves about growing in the county, and said a big YES to organizing a Tour event. They maintained a can-do attitude when the school district didn’t respond to a request to hold it on school property, and scheduled one morning and one afternoon event on two ends of the county at tourism/event centers. They kept the faith AND IT WORKED! Two new Building Reps, and quite a few members with a new spring in their step. That’s good stuff right there. I am eager to see how they develop next.

Big thanks to JCAE President Shannon Potter and Treasurer Christy Webster for everything they did to make the Craven County Tour stop a success!



February 19, 2021

Currituck’s Tour date was a quiet asynchronous day with no students around. NCAE State Vice President Bryan Proffitt had driven out to northeast NC to experience the We Heart Public Schools Tour on the road. It was cold and rainy, and our host, Currituck County President Zach Dearman, had a great idea. Why not bring the Tour inside? We could visit NCAE members in their classrooms.

It was really magical. We saw teachers in their classrooms, surrounded by the tools, displays and mementos of teaching their students. We took time for conversations, and heard their stories. The Civics and Government teacher who had come to Currituck County from Scotland for the summer, fell in love with another student teacher who was visiting from New England – and how they stayed to make their careers and lives in Currituck. An athletics teacher and coach who had grown up in Currituck County, the son of two teachers, who had followed in their footsteps in his hometown. An ROTC instructor who glowed with pride discussing the importance of opening up a more global perspective to his young students, and his pride in seeing them grow into mature and confident young adults.

It was also fun to see them interact with Bryan. As someone with a union, but not a schools, background – I feel like meet NCAE folks with genuine curiosity and enthusiasm. But Bryan meets NCAE folks with a deep understanding of having walked a similar path through public education. There is empathy and connection that is deep. There is nuance and detail to the discussions about education, its importance and its challenges. It was an honor to witness.

When we emerged a couple of hours later, we were met with a nice finale to our day. Teacher Julie West had driven across the county to connect with the Tour and get some swag for folks at her school. She was chatting happily with NCAE Durham activist Anca Stefan, who had been heroically staffing the RV-adjacent table while Zach, Bryan and I had been inside. The five of us had a nice conversation. It was great to see the rapport between these two local Currituck leaders. Julie is sparking with ideas about new outreach initiatives in Currituck. It was a nice end to a nice day.


February 23-24, 2021

Going to Dare County is kind of like meeting a celebrity in person. People all over the world know that the Wright Brothers launched the first airplanes in Kitty Hawk. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of the most iconic and famous lighthouses in the world. Manteo is the coastal reference point in the mountains-to-sea North Carolina phrase “from Murphy to Manteo.” (Murphy will be on the very last We Heart Tour Stop in Cherokee County in June!) Heck, just using the term OBX for the Outer Banks makes me feel cool.

So when Dare County NCAE asked the We Heart Tour (aka Leslie, with some assistance from NCAE Member Organizer Brenda) to do two days of parking lot posses at schools all up and down in the 70-mile-long county, I thought I’d give it a whirl. It would be a two-fer, a doozy of a county Tour for Dare NCAE, and a tour for the Tour driver at the same time.

The weather, blessedly, was beautiful and clear. There are actually hawks flying around Kitty Hawk Elementary School. The First Flight Elementary, Middle and High Schools are right next to the Wright Brothers Memorial, and you can look right up and see it on top of the hill from which the Wrights launched. Nags Head Elementary had especially blockbuster Tour stop participation. The Hatteras and Bodie lighthouses made me weepy. Manteo is adorable. And I feel like I really have a good school-by-school feel for Dare membership and leadership (And potential membership! And potential leadership!) at different schools across the county.

It was a great experience, though a bit too ambitious to cover so much ground in such a short period of time. (The rest of you counties – one day Tour stops!) But I recommend that kind of in-person, school-by-school check-in as a practice for NCAE County leaders, just spaced out a bit over the course of time. Like a County-wide We Heart Public Schools Tour. What a great way to assess, engage and build our union, school by school!

Thanks to Dare NCAE President Penny Adams for setting up the Tour, and for each of the point people who met us at the different schools and helped notify folks to come out and visit!


Davidson - Lexington City

Davidson - Thomasville City




January 23, 2021

Someone had to get this We <3 Public Schools Tour party started, and a logical choice was the mighty, mighty Durham Association of Educators!

DAE picked Saturday for a rally-style event at Hillside High School. Of more than 300 historically Black high schools that operated in NC before desegregation, only five remain today, with Hillside being the oldest.

Our very own Bryan Proffitt wore three hats that day – NCAE Vice President, former Hillside history teacher, and tune-spinning DJ Whole Wheat. NEA Director Turquoise LeJeune Parker was *born* to be an MC. DAE President Michelle Burton and NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly both addressed the crowd. In addition to kicking off the We Heart Tour, DAE had something else BIG to celebrate – classified employees in Durham Public Schools had just won the fight for $15 an hour for the 2020-2021 fiscal year! Yowza! Deborrah Bailey, a custodian and major advocate for the raise, shared strategy and celebration with all in attendance.

One other cool thing… it was the first time I ever saw free books and school supplies at a rally. What a great idea for NCAE events! I am only sorry I didn’t snap a photo of neighborhood kids that biked up to check out the educational goodies.

Big thanks to Michelle Burton, Turquoise LeJeune Parker, Paige Holt, Lauren Casteen, Lisa Gerardie, Millie Rosen, James Finnegan, Deborrah Bailey, Malcolm Goff and John Davis for the momentum. Here we go!

On Facebook: Durham Association of Educators


March 6, 2021

Edgecombe County NCAE President Angela Pompey knows how to throw a party. Fully one month before the Edgecombe Tour stop, she started stoking the fires of competition for the Virtual Trivia Competition half of the event. The Edgecombe County NCAE solicited teams for the “NCAE Battle of the Schools,” promising first, second and third place trophies for the winners. A few days later, she included a photo of the sizable banner that the winning team could display for bragging rights. And later she threw down the gauntlet with the caption of “Who has the smartest staff?” (!) to an actual commercial for the trivia contest with pounding movie-sound-track music. Really! Go find it on their Facebook page. I have watched it at least 15 times.

Then, mercy!, the party itself. For the in-person, drive-through part of the Tour stop, well, the Edgecombe team “pulled out all the stops.” Not only did Edgecombe Co. NCAE augment the Tour swag with other swag in cute gift bags, but they got the Family Resource Center to give out a second swag bag. And they had Lovable Local Leader awards. And a raffle. And a DJ. And they ordered pizza and cookies for the volunteers. And they replicated BY HAND the iconic We Public Schools frame so twice as many people could get their photos taken posing in front of the RV at once. Mind. Blown.

A couple of nice stories from Edgecombe. A school board member who came to receive a Lovable Leader award stayed the entire rest of the in-person event, greeting public school employees as they came through, and helping clean up at the end! And the NCAE leadership team surprised Edgecombe NCAE President Angela with a special award, and it was great to see someone who gives so much to others allow herself to receive for once!

Thanks to Edgecombe NCAE President Angela Pompey, Social Events Coordinator Lanetta Scott, VP Crystal Belfield, Secretary/Area Rep Linda White-Edmonds, Treasurer/AR Amy Burger, and ARs Linda Draughn, Kristian Herring, Hillary Boutwell, Wanda Jones, Robin Anderson and Amanda Andrews for helping put the Tour event together and spreading the word!


Franklin - Parking Lot Posse

January 27, 2021

FCAE chose the county’s asynchronous day for its Tour stop, when educators’ schedules were a little more flexible. And then they proceeded to do not one, not two, not three but FOUR Parking Lot Posses at schools around the county! Wow! Dozens of public school employees were able to spend a few minutes getting a little recognition, We Heart Public Schools swag and a few empty calories. (Because who doesn’t love those??)

FCAE President Rachel Taulbee also scheduled time for me to have terrific in-depth conversations with a broad cross-section of public school employees – a custodian, a cafeteria supervisor, an assistant principal, a school counselor and a teacher. It was great to get a better understanding of how each of these members of the public school “village” help raise our communities’ children, and how their roles have evolved during the Covid pandemic. I was so moved by their thoughtfulness and efforts.

Major thanks to Rachel Taulbee, Lisa Dukelow, Carol Kump, and Hannah Bethea for pulling this whole thing together!

And a special shoutout to Durham Association of Educators President Michelle Burton, who drove out to Franklin County to support!

On Facebook: Franklin County Association of Educators

Franklin - Cafeteria Staff

January 27, 2021

The tunes are cranked in the kitchen at Cedar Creek Middle School, perfect for working with a spring in your step. The staff collectively is a well-oiled machine – they smile a friendly hello and don’t slow down. The place is spotless. Cafeteria Supervisor LaQuita Shotwell is warm and authentic. She loves kids, loves her team, and loves her job.

Hunger in the U.S. is a shockingly widespread problem, and human beings struggle to focus when their bellies are empty. For years schools have been faithfully filling that need with free and reduced cost breakfast and lunch programs so their students can be… students. When the Covid pandemic first hit, figuring out how to feed their kids immediately rose to the top of schools’ priorities of Things To Figure Out. These days the Cedar Creek cafeteria staff cooks, packs and delivers food across Franklin County to about 250 students daily.

“A lot of kids only eat here, unfortunately – I know that for a fact. It makes me so sad. You really never know what these kids are going through. It is just giving them a little bit hope, even if it’s just a little meal. It might not be a lot to some people, but to these kids, it’s a lot. They come out running to the buses as if we are giving out candy or something. It’s a rewarding job. It’s hard work, but it’s very rewarding. They depend on these lunches, they really do.”

A deep and heartfelt thanks to public schools and food service workers that are committed to meeting this most basic need for our communities’ kids.

Franklin - Custodian, Scott Perry

January 27, 2021

Scott Perry is a hometown hero if I ever saw one. Within the Franklin County Public Schools, he is not only the Head Custodian for Franklinton Elementary School, but also a School Bus Driver, and the Assistant Coach for Franklinton Junior Varsity Basketball and Varsity Football Team. He is also a Head Coach for Franklinton Parks and Rec Basketball League, a leader in his church, takes his catering food truck out on many weekends to cook for folks in the county FOR FREE, and has stepped in to run errands for homebound senior citizens during the Covid pandemic.

I got a chance to run alongside Mr. Perry for an hour on his morning rounds of Franklinton Elementary, as he unlocked doors, wiped down their handles and gallantly opened them for me. He narrated the tour of the school, including pointing out the classrooms where he once was a student himself, and responded to every question I asked him about his seemingly endless feats of generosity for his community with a slightly twinkly “aw shucks” downplaying. The best part of all was watching each and every staff and student he greeted be so genuinely delighted to see him. I felt exactly the same way.



February 15, 2021

The Gates County Tour stop was such a heart-warming experience of small town. The half-dozen places to eat in Gatesville are closed on Monday, so our hostess Barbara Toti wisely scheduled the Tour next to the lunch truck in the Community Center parking lot – because that’s where everybody would be!

The first person to come by was Superintendent Barry Williams, who couldn’t wait to brag on Gates County educators. (“Best teachers in the whole state, in the whole country!”) He had just come from supporting a Covid vaccine effort, and I was thrilled to hear that most of the public schools staff had gotten vaccinated already!

Everybody else who came by, well it was just old home week. This young teacher was Barbara’s former student, and that young teacher was Barbara’s former student, and so was this other young teacher. I thought it was remarkable that so many young people had been inspired into the profession, and were so committed to serving their community. It said a lot to me about Barbara, who is a theater arts teacher and has over 120 successful theater productions under her belt. She made the point to me that, as an arts teacher, she works with almost the entire student body at some point on another. I already knew I was a big fan of teaching the arts in school, but I had never thought about how it would bring students together in ways that might not otherwise happen. That makes me love it even more!

It was also great to get a small surge of support from NCRSP members, spearheaded by Gates County President Marion Byrd. It was nice to see people catch up with each others’ lives and share a story or two of shared triumphs back in the day. And one of the retirees fished his annual NCRSP dues out of his pocket and handed them to Mrs. Byrd on the spot!

What a sweet day!

Many thanks to Barbara Toti and Marion Byrd for their support of the We Heart Gates Tour stop!





February 10, 2021

Halifax NCAE was the very definition of prepared for their Tour stop! The drive-through event was set for lunchtime, so they made to-go snack-and-water bags to give out with the Tour swag. I was also wowed by the de facto Red for Ed FASHION SHOW among the members who turned out. Dang, y’all. Halifax has got their accessorizing game down, including manicures. Halifax was the first county to have the newly-wrapped RV in attendance at their Tour stop, and I was glad to have a backdrop worthy of all that gloriousness.

I was also impressed that the Halifax NCAE officers showed up with alphabetized member lists by building, and that they just launched a new Facebook page. The part that warmed my heart the most was watching the budding discussion through the day with the NC Retired School Personnel who attended. Seems like the Halifax NCAE and NCRSP are going to coordinate more, and are exploring the idea of retired educators mentoring early-career educators. Teaching, mentoring, sharing, communicating, supporting – that’s the best of what NCAE is about!

Halifax - Driver's Ed Instructor, William Battle

February 10, 2021

Learning how to drive as a teen is a pretty universal experience, and that is William Battle’s opportunity to make a difference. Mr. Battle works with the Halifax County School District to teach the next generation how to do the most vital of tasks - safely transport themselves and their loved ones to school, to work, to family and community, to Get Things Done, to recreation.

But driving isn’t the only thing that Mr. Battle teaches. He considers the chance to spend quality time with one or two students In the midst of the chaos of being a teen and the busy-ness of life to be so much more. It’s a chance to give them his full attention, encouragement, a few answers to life’s questions.

He keeps masks, face shields, snacks and water in the trunk to make sure everyone’s basic physical needs are met. For basic psychological needs, he LITERALLY rolls out a red carpet to the driver’s door, and makes sure that each student gets that all-important photo of this rite of passage.

Then there’s the time in the car. All mobile phones have gone in the trunk before anybody gets behind the wheel. He instructs on driving and safety, but he also asks questions about how they are and what they aspire to. He listens. He cares. He tries to embody being the kind of adult they could become. And he does his best to make a difference in his students’ lives, one car ride at a time.





February 25, 2021

The best word I can think of to describe the Hyde County Tour is “bijou” – small and elegant.

The small part is Hyde County Schools are small to begin with, with two campuses – one on the mainland next to Lake Mattamuskeet and the other a ferry ride away on Ocracoke Island. Small because Hyde has not only had to adapt to Covid as other school districts have, but they are ALSO rebuilding the Ocracoke campus after it was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. (Which blows my mind and hurts my heart.) So Hyde NCAE President Julio Morales and Vice President Richard Perry decided to personally deliver We Public Schools swag to the members. So it was the three of us… Small.

And elegant part is that Julio and Richard both looked extremely dapper in head-to-toe red and black. I, of course, had brought accessories. The We Public Schools lapel pins and masks really completed the outfits. And then there was the mini photo shoot! Don’t they look elegant?

Bijou, indeed!



February 2, 2021

Johnston County NCAE had been busy. Students had been set to resume in-person instruction on January 19, but a comprehensive plan to do that safely that just wasn’t in place. NCAE members mobilized to contact Johnson County School Board members and held a press conference to provide key elements of a safe re-opening plan - educators having access to the Covid vaccine, full transparency of in-school Covid transmission cases, and a guarantee of six feet of social distance. The School Board had just voted again, this time to extend online-only learning until mid-March.

Johnston’s Tour stop was pretty straightforward. Two Parking Lot Posses, one in the morning on one side of the county at an elementary school, the second after school on the other side of the county at a high school. The staff at both schools were intrigued and delighted to have a sense of occasion, enthusiastic appreciation of their work, and a chance to connect more with NCAE. And a little We Heart Public Schools swag is always fun!

Props to Johnston County President April Lee for all she does!


March 11, 2021

Jones County Association of Educators President Diane Kinsey runs a tight ship. The Jones County Tour stop was scheduled for 3:30-4:30pm, which is the shortest scheduled stop yet. I was curious about how that would work. I didn’t need to worry.

I showed up a half hour early as I always do and WHOMP, about ten people emerged from the gorgeous new combo elementary-and-high-school building all wearing red “Team JCAE” shirts. We set up right in seconds flat - me with the Tour gear, and JCAE bringing snacks and the only soda wise enough to have a red label, Coca-Cola. They even had their own photographer with a fancy digital camera.

At 3:30 on the dot, more people spilled out of the building to get NCAE info and swag, and get their photos taken in front of the RV. Then Building Reps started showing up from other schools. Honestly, 90% of the people I saw that day wore red clothing, even though it wasn’t Wednesday – and I am pretty darn sure that was no coincidence! The crowning glory of the day in my book was A NON-MEMBER WHO DROVE FROM ANOTHER SCHOOL to attend the event. (Yes! More of that!) Diane was clear with all of the non-members that she would be following up with them about joining JCAE/NCAE/NEA. She got a handful of our new NCAE-and-We Heart Public Schools Tour handouts to add to the packets of information she provides future members when she meets with them.

A good time was had by all. The warm Spring sun and Motown tunes created a nice environment for socially-distant catching up and dancing. But, like I said, Diane runs a tight ship. At 4:23, she informed me that it was time to start packing up. I have never seen this before, but the We Heart swag matched the number of attendees almost perfectly. At 4:30pm, we were outta there.

Big thanks to JCAE President Diane Kinsey, VP Guy Schmidt, Treasurer Alexander Williams, photographer Beverly Hines, and Building Reps Susan Duras, Alexandra AKA “Mrs. C,” Sabrena Miller, Suddonna Murrell, Lashawn Scott and Ava Williams for making the Jones County Tour stop a (an efficient!) success!



March 1, 2021

The Lenoir County Tour stop was a rollicking good time. Truly. The officers of LCAE used every tool in the Tour stop toolbox, and… it worked! They created great energy and interest, and new members and leaders! We felt like we were on a roll all day.

The LCAE Team understood the opportunity to engage public schools employees in the We Heart Public Schools Tour coming to their county, and they did everything to maximize it. Recently, the LCAE had a victory with getting the Lenoir County Board of Education to be more transparent with their Covid dashboard. They had already delivered for their base, and people had noticed. The timing was perfect.

LCAE chose to do three Parking Lot Posses – one before work, one during lunch and one after work – to coincide with times when schools staff were most likely to be available. They also chose one elementary, one middle and one high school in different parts of the county AND invited all school employees across the county to the after-school posse to connect with a broad cross-section of their constituents.

With the Lovable Local Leaders recognition program, LCAE invited nominations from their whole community, members and non-members alike. That way, more people could participate in making the nominations, and LCAE could learn more about everyday leaders in their base. They also announced the Lovable Local Leaders in public comment at the School Board Meeting, which happened to be the night of the Tour. What a great way to acknowledge them for the whole schools-interested community to know!

LCAE made the most of their new Facebook page to get the word out, both in advance announcements and during the day of the Tour in Facebook Live sessions. Members received email and text reminders about their Tour stop. LCAE put out a press release to local media. They made their own LCAE-specific handout of upcoming events to pass out with the NCAE literature. They put together special welcome swag for beginning teachers, including a notebook customized with “Lenoir” on the cover. To celebrate their folks just a little bit more, they passed out snacks and sodas. And President Nick Green took a personal day off so he could personally welcome and connect with the LCAE base as much as possible.

And it worked! People were intrigued, delighted and energized. Everyone felt seen and supported. Some newer employees were glad to hear about NCAE for the first time, and longer-term educators were excited to reconnect. A new building rep stepped forward. And a couple of other people are beginning to step into the core leadership team. It was inspiring and fun all day long!!

Thanks for LCAE President Nick Green, Vice President Jessie Van Cura, Treasurer Bettie Hall and Secretary Jessica Neal!



February 13, 2021

When Martin County said their event would be on Saturday morning in the Walmart parking lot, I assumed they meant way out in the parking lot. But, no. The Martin County NCAE must have some pull in this town because they had me park the RV RIGHT UP NEXT TO THE BUILDING in the FRONT.

And Cleta Harrell knows how to deliver some compelling Facebook Live, y’all. “Come on out, public school employees! Look at this RV! 1 RV, 5 Months, 100 Counties! We Love Public Schools North Carolina! It is here in Martin County! This is what you need, educators. We want you to come out today. We know that you have been working hard during this pandemic. We know that you are tired. We want to support you. We want to honor you. So come on out this morning!” If I wasn’t already there, I would have gotten up and driven there immediately.

In between folks coming by, I got a chance to talk with Emily Biggs a little bit. She is taking her insights and ideas as a teacher in the Martin County Schools into an expanded role, as a County Commissioner! This was the first time she has run for office, and she ran against an incumbent and won. WOW. She is looking forward to being able to engage with policy and budget issues impacting schools in her new role, and I’ll be excited to hear what opens up.

The icing on the cake was the dance party we had. It was rainy and cold, and at least Cleta and I were full of coffee – so singing and dancing under the We Heart Tour tent seemed like exactly the right thing to do. It warmed us right up, and we had a lot of fun.

Big thanks to Martin County NCAE Tour stop coordinators Cleta Harrell and Emily Biggs.




April 1, 2021

This is what I loved about the Moore County Tour Stop more than anything else: they weren’t so attached to the outcome that they didn’t thoroughly enjoy the process.

What do I mean by that?

Moore is one of those counties where NCAE is on the upswing. Until the last little while, the MCAE was pretty quiet, but the current leadership has been building momentum. They were really energized by the opportunity that the Tour event presented, and jumped in with major enthusiasm. They went out and got donations for swag and raffle prizes. They put out the call for Lovable Local Leaders nominations. They made reservations at a nice community park. They came up with a well-considered drive-through structure with stations for photos, petition signatures, raffle entry, swag giveaway, vaccine info and NCRSP resources. They put out a press release.

They were already happy, even before anyone arrived. They felt creative. They felt accomplished. They felt possibility. No matter what. I have been at several other events where participants were collectively fashionably late, and the host committees have understandably been in profound anxiety until they showed up – but not MCAE. Of course, they wanted people to participate, but the leadership were already empowered but what they had done so far. The event was successful.

And you know what? People did come. MCAE got a good number of petition signatures. There were a couple of really nice Lovable Leader presentations. Two people became new MCAE/NCAE members that day. The Pilot newspaper sent out a reporter and a photographer for a story. The energy was really great. MCAE got to enjoy both the journey AND the destination!

Big thanks to MCAE President Luke Arno, Vice-President Deanna Drummond, Secretary Barbara Kennerly, and members Alison Arno and Daria Fredrick who made it all happen!


February 5, 2021

Nash County was the most heart-centered Tour stop yet. They started with a “drive-through” swag-and-info giveaway, but almost everyone stayed around for a good long while and caught up.

And then there was the “In This Together” Virtual Dance Party and Lovable Local Leader acknowledgments. In advance, Nash NCAE invited people to submit the names of public school employees and say how their nominee had gone above and beyond the call of duty. The singing and dancing to the tunes spun by DJ Whole Wheat (aka NCAE Vice President Bryan Proffitt) was priceless, made even more fun by the (adorable!) participation of many kids and grandkids. And the Leader acknowledgments were delightful to watch. Everyone clapped and beamed and hung on every word.

We ❤️ Public Schools, we really do.

New Hanover


February 11, 2021

Cheers for fresh energy and a willingness to take steps into leadership! For his first step, Victor Chilaka took a big one! He stepped up to coordinate the We Heart Tour stop in Northampton County. Victor is a “home grown” educator who has made the conscious decision to stay and teach in his community. And now he is a budding NCAE Northampton leader!

The Tour stop was held at the centrally-located Northampton County Schools Central Office. We were warmly welcomed by Superintendent Pamela Chamblee who was enthusiastic about the Tour and said she welcomes the opportunity to work with NCAE in any way possible. We had both active and retired educators drive over to get in on the excitement.

Here is what Victor himself had to say: “I can't let today end without thanking some very inspiring educators for visiting Northampton County Schools. Thank you so much NCAE for including us on such a phenomenal trip for local School Districts in NC.

As passionate as we are for our children and dedicated to the career, we sometimes become complacent and caught in the "routine" of work expectations, that we forget to stop, look each other in the eyes and simply say "thank you for your commitment to our children!" And in a district as small as ours, recognition and thanks from colleagues within becomes like a brotherly or sisterly "good job!"

Cross school district fellowship is not only fun, but important to teacher retention, educator growth, and professional networking.

So on behalf of Northampton County Schools' NCAE I say thank you, and I hope and expect to see and meet many more of you! #NCAE #WeLoveEducators #NorthamptonStrong”

Victor is helping schedule upcoming County NCAE elections, and is attending the NCAE online Organizer Trainings. With the support of NCAE Regional Lead Organizers, and the institutional memories of past Northampton NCAE leaders past – this county NCAE is bursting with promise!


March 13, 2021

What I saw at the Onslow County Tour stop was a collection of pretty much all of the “best practices” I have seen, and then some. First and foremost, I love the tagline they use, “One Voice, Many Strengths.” (Swoon!) Their visibility game is on point - social media accounts, dedicated email address, Onslow NCAE tablecloth for events, even Onslow NCAE lawn signs, amazingly. And then for the Tour stop, swag bags, an educational resources table, a kids’ activities table, a raffle, a DJ…! And something I hadn’t seen before – a League of Women Voters booth to register folks to vote. OCAE had a handout with info on their monthly meetings, social media and on Board of Education meetings, and another handout titled “On Wednesdays We Wear Red” that explains the solidarity needed to make positive changes in our public schools for our children and communities.

ALL THAT and the first line dancing of the We Public Schools Tour! Electric Slide, Macarena, Cotton Eye Joe. I WAS SO INSPIRED!

And here’s the thing… just a couple of years ago, Onslow County Association of Educators was pretty dormant. They started to get engaged at a higher level in 2018 around the Statewide mobilization to Raleigh on May 16. And look at them now! That should give any County NCAE chapter hope.

The movers and shakers behind the Onslow County Tour stop are President Anne Hardinger, VP Chris Meek, Secretary Marla Sobol, Elementary Director and Government Relations Chair Sherri Kearney, and past President Laura Prince. Hooray to all!

Orange + Chapel Hill-Carrboro


February 20th, 2021

If you’re doing a drive-through We Heart Public Schools Tour event in your county, who says it has to be on school property? Especially if it’s on a Saturday! Where’s a place that everyone knows? A place where people naturally gather? A place that has a bit of beauty, or fun, or both?

Pasquotank went for the Museum of the Albemarle, right across the street from Waterfront Park in Elizabeth City. Wow! I am an amateur architecture geek and it took my breath away. Festive Touch #1.

And… IT WASN’T RAINING!! After days (and days!) of rain, it was bright and clear. Festive Touch #2.

The next thing to put pep in the Tour stop step was a terrific four-person NCAE-NCRSP volunteer team - Julie Mansfield, Nandita Banerjee, Delphine Walton and Melba Purkett. Festive Touch #3.

We cranked Motown tunes. Festive Touch #4.

And neighboring Currituck NCAE had sent along a bunch of snack packs for Pasquotank to pass out with the We Heart swag. Festive Touch #5!

All the Festive Touches created the conditions for a great day! Both active and retired teachers came through. It was fun to see people recognize old friends. Of course, it feels great to be celebrated, showered with gifts and photographed by the paparazzo. Pretty much everybody seemed like they were some combination of appreciative and giddy.

And in the lulls between cars coming by, the Pasquotank team, NCAE VP Bryan Proffitt, Anca Stefan from Durham Association of Educators , Member Organizer Brenda Hollowell White and I talked and danced and took photos and enjoyed our time together.

Another great day on the We Heart Public Schools Tour!!





Hands-down, my favorite meetings to attend are Tour Planning with counties a few weeks before their events. I love virtually meeting county leadership, and witnessing their ideas come to life. There is a cool dynamic that happens. First the NCAE Tour staff lays out ideas and examples of possible Tour events. Then each county ventures out what they think might work best for them. And then (My heart beats faster just thinking of it!) EVERYBODY – including the other county leaders on the call – jumps in with their inspiration to further develop the ideas until they feel pretty solid.

I know the leadership of NCAE has a mantra “It’s not magic. It’s organizing.” But it sure feels like magical organizing to me. The creativity and camaraderie gets me every time.

So, Pitt County Association of Educators ventured to where no county had ventured before with its Tour event idea – community service. For their drive-through event, in addition to giving out We Heart Public Schools swag, they collected donations of paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and food for Pitt County Schools families in need. Bada boom, bada bing! Double good stuff! I was so thrilled to keep expanding our collective creative thoughts, AND our impact to our kids and families.

Another cool thing that happened with Pitt, not only did we have two reporters respond to the press release about the Tour event, but one of them brought quite a few donations with him to support the effort! Sounds like magical organizing to me!

Thanks to Pitt County NCAE President Lauren Piner, Vice President Elyse Cannon McRae and Treasurer Danisha Williams for making this great event happen!




March 23, 2021

Honestly, this day is a bit of a blur for me. I had gotten my first Covid vaccine two days prior (coincidentally right across the street from where the Tour event was!) and my brain’s ability to multitask was at about 85% of my normal capacity.

But oh, what a happy blur! Robeson President Dee Grissett and Member Organizer Audrey Strong together are a bit like a comedy duo – Dee the clear-eyed “straight man” and Audrey bringing the good-natured zaniness. Their comfortable energetic compatibility set the tone for the whole Tour Stop. And Bladen President Celeste Lennon is one of the most gracious people I have ever met. She also infused the event with a kindness and respect that was lovely.

This Tour stop was a get-out-of-your-car-and-take-part event. There were people to see, photos to take, raffles to participate in, swag to snag. But the beating heart of this event were the Lovable Local Leaders from both counties. The honoring was so deeply genuine. I saw more moist eyes at this event than I have at any other so far. It is so moving to see people being recognized for their contributions.

The cherry on top of this fine day was two teachers who drove together to the Tour stop expressly for the purpose of joining RCAE/NCAE. O.M.G. It’s almost like another kind of Lovable Leader recognition – the ultimate recognition of RCAE’s contributions. Of course, we fussed over those two aplenty. We were delighted and so were they!

Thanks to the Robeson Tour Team President Dee Grissett, Beginning Teacher Organizer Natasha Ellison, Treasurer Peggy Locklear, Building Rep Chrystal Roberts, Secretary Ralph Shoemaker Secretary, and Member Organizer and Building Rep Audrey Strong.

And thanks to BCAE President Celeste Lennon, Vice President Areda Rogers and Treasurer

Yolanda Freeman.










February 26, 2021

The We Heart Public Schools Tour has had the support of quite a few Superintendents as we held Tour Stops in their counties. We have held a number of events at County Boards of Education. BOEs have helped publicize Tour events on their social media and through district-wide communications. Many Superintendents have come by to say a few good words and get their photos taken with our quintessential We Heart frame. Heck, we even had the Superintendent of Vance County stand out in the rain with NCAE for a couple of hours at our drive-through Tour event there!

But Tyrrell County Schools Superintendent Oliver Holley has now taken the bar even higher. The long-time NCAE member and current Board member of the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children ( was himself the Tyrrell County Tour stop organizer! He made arrangements for us to do parking lot posses at the Elementary and Middle & Senior High schools. He also, of course, came out himself to support… and get the latest NCAE swag to complete his collection!

Thanks, also, to the principals and acting principals of Tyrrell County on Tour Day. Their hospitality was heartwarming. We also had great participation and interest from teachers and ESPs alike. Another terrific day on the We Heart Public Schools Tour!



January 25, 2021

Event #2! Vance County educators, Superintendent and School Board have all been on the same page about Covid prevention via remote learning, so a socially-distanced drive-through Tour event was just right for VCAE. It’s a good thing, too, because it happened to rain that day!

Not only was the Vance County Schools Central Office a great central location, but we also enjoyed the company of Superintendent Dr. Tony Jackson as we greeted public school employees as they stopped by for appreciation, We Heart Public Schools swag and a photo op. Special thanks to VCAE Jameel Williams, VCAE Membership Chair Rita Jones and to Superintendent Jackson for all their work to make this a fun and safe event!


February 1, 2021

Give it up for Wake NCAE, y’all! They do double duty – for Wake County schools issues AND FOR ALL OF NCAE! So much that impacts every corner of the state happens in the North Carolina General Assembly, so Wake NCAE steps up to represent their brothers and sisters statewide when they mobilize in the capitol.

On Wake’s Tour Day, they did it again! Cars full of educators (and those who love them!) lined up on the street in front of the NCGA, and NCAE volunteers handed them Heart Cards to write a note to legislators sharing what they LOVE about our public schools. After they finished filling out their cards, they traded in their cards for We Heart Public Schools swag!

Cool story – One of the newly-elected legislators, Senator Julie Mayfield of Buncombe County, came over to express her support. Later that week, she wore her NCAE We Heart Public Schools face mask in solidarity with us during NCGA debate on how safely/not-safely to return to in-person learning.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Kristin Beller, Michelle Craig, Jasmine Barcelona, Cecelia Joyce, Sue Reynolds, Lara Bartholow, Christina Spears, Nancy Moseley, Beth Naranjo, Michele Leykum-Enoch and Raelynn Clark!

On Facebook: Wake NCAE






March 1, 2021

The Wayne NCAE crew started pumped and stayed pumped. The stations for their Drive-Through event at the Tommy’s Road Elementary School were already semi-set up when I drove the RV in. WCAE President Tiffany Kilgore and NCAE Apprentice Field Organizer Anya Sippen waved their arms and jumped up and down. I rolled my window down and we all started hootin’ and hollerin’. After I parked, Tiffany and I double elbow-bumped for our first time meeting in person. The rest of the WCAE Tour team – Joe Beamon, Isaac Davenport and Daniel Kilgore – then bounced in, full of caffeine from the gigantic sodas acquired on their Bojangles run.

When former Wayne Co. President and current Lenoir Association of Educators President Nick Green made a surprise appearance from the next county over, we ALL went berserk. Then NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly and VP Bryan Proffitt rolled in from the Triangle with more solidarity. It was a love-love-love-fest.

The flow of the Drive-Through was the most well-considered and complex yet on the Tour. (Yay for having enough volunteers to match!) At the first station, folks put their names and phone numbers on their raffle ticket. At the second station, they received their bag-o’-swag. Third station, a photo op with the Big North Carolina frame that Jasmine Barcelona of Wake Co. made and lent to the Tour. (Thank you again and again, Jasmine!) And at the FOURTH station - get this – each person put their raffle ticket in the drawing for the raffle item they would most like to win, The Spa Box, The School/Office Supply Box or the Gaming Box.I mean, really – how many of us have received things that we wouldn’t have bought for ourselves? This was genius and in my humble opinion is how raffles should always be from now on.

Our energy was clearly infectious because all of the folks that drove through were truly bright-eyed and smiling from ear to ear. The icing on the cake was having a bipartisan showing from two Wayne County School Board members – Republican Tommy Sanders and Democrat Len Henderson. It made my full heart even fuller!

And if that weren’t enough (!) WCAE then had a Virtual Trivia Night using the triple technologies of Kahoot!, Zoom and Facebook Live. NC NEA Director and natural-born cheerleader Turquoise LeJeune Parker MC’d, keeping the hype up until the end. It was absolutely the friendliest, non-competitive competition I have ever seen. Everyone clearly enjoyed being together, and celebrated the “winners,” such as they were.

Huge thanks to everyone who made this happen! We Heart WCAE!!