Earlier this month, Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to President Clinton and newly appointed University of North Carolina System President, delivered his inaugural address. I encourage you to read the speech and notice something breathtaking. The speech is not just about how great the university system is in North Carolina—and I happen to think it’s outstanding—and where it’s going. The speech is much more about a simpler and harder hitting truth.
Unlike many system leaders who see it as their place in life to challenge, deride, or excoriate other education sectors in the fight for their piece of the legislative appropriation pie, Bowles reaches out to the K-12 schools in the state and says, “How can we help.” He pays tribute to the NC community college system—representing some 58 institutions—and talks about the importance of supporting and connecting to their work. And it’s not just lip service. He makes the larger case to the public that to successfully compete in the modern global economy, a state must bring its full complement of educational resources to bear; all sectors have to work in concert, support each other, and play to their unique strengths. It’s not about which system is better, more important, or more deserving; it’s about what is possible if they work together.
Watch for great things from the partnership of Erskine Bowles, Martin Lancaster, the North Carolina Community College System president, and June Atkinson, the North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction. They are three leaders that are ready and willing to work together. Better yet, they clearly understand that as the world becomes flatter and more driven by creativity and innovation, folks across the K-20 spectrum are served well by remembering the simple truth: we’re in this together!