Makayla Thomas and Ariyana Jackson greeted legislators, dignitaries and visitors to Carver Heights Elementary School Tuesday morning.

The fifth-grade classmates are proud members of the Principal’s Council, which required demonstrating some important qualities.

“You have to have great behavior, be very, very smart and always be nice,” said Thomas, who has been at the school since third grade. “It’s a very good school.”

“I like this school because the teachers give us a very good education, and I get to learn something every day,” Jackson said.

The girls are best friends, they shared, as they hugged outside the media center.

They also credited Patrice Faison, their new principal since October — who is “very nice,” Thomas said, and is making their school an even better place.

Fourth-grader Akari Davis extended his hand to welcome visitors to the school. He was looking forward to escorting the guests on a tour, he said.

After all, he had trained for that moment, ever since applying to be on the council.

“We had to write two paragraphs about what we think is good about Carver Heights and what I would do to improve the school,” he said, before explaining his personal responses to those questions.

“I want to make the school a better place by improving the math and EOG (end-of-grade test) scores and to make sure the students are listening in class.”

These students, and others like them, were the reason for the gathering at the school. 

Since the fall, representation from educators to elected officials to community supporters have pooled their resources to maintain district control of Carver Heights. The school had come under fire for its low-performing status in recent years, and the state had threatened to either close the school or take it over as part of the mandated Innovative School District.

Local legislators played a big role in reversing that decision and keeping leadership in Wayne County Public Schools’ hands, said superintendent Michael Dunsmore. Two of the biggest players in that effort were House Majority Leader John Bell IV, R-Goldsboro, and Sen. Don Davis, D-Snow Hill.

“This is a happy, happy occasion,” Dunsmore said. “For the last several months we have had a staunch fight on our hands to maintain control of this school.

“I personally thought it was well worth it — to maintain control and keep these young people here.”

When he asked for a show of hands of those who had attended Carver Heights Elementary School, Bell, Mayor Chuck Allen and Rep. Raymond Smith Jr., D-Goldsboro, were among those to respond.

Bell was a student there in second and third grades, he said, and this marked the first time he had returned.

He praised the collaborative efforts of many in the room.

‘This is what happens when you get community leaders together and work for the common good,” he said. “The legislators’ work now is done — now it’s the community’s turn.”

Davis said he was not a former student of the school but could very well have been.

Growing up in Greene County, his father had lived in Goldsboro.

“I was actually reared less than a mile from here,” he said. “Not only that but my aunt retired from the (school) system, and she spent a lot of time in these schools.”

What prompted him to become part of the many late-night calls with Dunsmore and other efforts to turn the tide for the district was the children, he said. But first, he acknowledged Bell’s leadership.

“He really started the ball rolling on this by just getting language in the bill and, obviously, it continued to move forward,” Davis said, before leaning in and directing his remarks to the students. “We’re here today because your education, your future today and tomorrow is not about what party you’re in. It’s because we care about you.”

He also referenced Sen. Louis Pate, R-Mount Olive, a legislator for 16 years before announcing his retirement Monday.

“He’s been a part of this for a long time, and it’s been great working with him,” Davis said. “He worked hard for this community and the students of his community.”

For Smith, his presence was more than business. It was “absolutely personal,” he said, having grown up in that part of town.

As a school board member in the midst of the fight to retain control of his alma mater, and now serving at the state level, it was a “labor of love,” he said.

Dunsmore also applauded Sylvia Barnes and the local NAACP, noting the importance of having public support at every turn.

As the program wrapped up, Principal’s Council members Gladys Sherrod and Zitereon Cobb officially welcomed the guests.

“We have a big and important job, and we cannot do it without you,” Cobb said, thanking the crowd for showing up. “Please come again.”

Faison echoed the sentiment, recalling the important role each person represents moving forward. She recalled having the role of turning around schools previously in other areas, saying the biggest part of the job is the residents.

“I need you back,” she said. “I don’t just need you here today. We love people to come and see what we’re doing, and we love to have your help.

“You cannot do this by yourself. If we’re going to be successful — and we’re not going to talk about not being successful — we have to do this, and we need to do this.”