Arbuckles’s legacy can be seen in the Guilford schools

Jun. 24, 2013 @ 05:43 PM

Margaret B. Arbuckle’s  legacy at the Guilford Education Alliance can be seen in the Guilford County Schools.

During her tenure as director, the nonprofit organization backed by educators and business leaders, became a leading education advocacy organization by lobbying to keep education issues in the forefront of state and local budget discussions. The Alliance also created programs to help students and teachers and a report series to focus on school needs.
Arbuckle will leave the agency Sunday but she won’t be looking behind that much.

Arbuckle came from a Mecklenburg County family interested in social justice. Her father, Robert Bourdeaux, built a legacy by working on housing equity and home ownership.
“I’ve always been interested in policy and politics,” she said. “I worked on Capitol Hill for a little while. It was an adventure to see how things work. This became part of my foundation.”
Arbuckle has been known for her passion for education and improving opportunities, especially for disadvantaged children.
Dot Kearns of High Point, also a former county commissioner, has known Arbuckle for years. Kearns was a commissioner when Guilford became the first county in the nation to create a local commission on the needs of children, an effort Arbuckle helped launch.
“Margaret brought her considerable energy to that mission and to the citizens on the issues public education faced. She also followed the legislative agenda and worked for adequate funding for public education for every child,” Kearns said.
“What I saw in my experiences opened my eyes to the importance of quality early child education,” Arbuckle said. “Public schools also are the foundation of our democracy.”
Recently, Arbuckle joined “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh to fight against cuts to early education. She is especially worried about the growth of public charter schools and vouchers parents could use to send their children to private schools.
“On the one hand you can justify this to get a smaller environment in a school, but on the other hand, some people are profiteering out of this,” Arbuckle said.
Arbuckle also worries about accountability in the charter schools.
“There seems to be no accountability for tax money,” she said. “I understand capitalism and people making money, but I support our commitment to educate every child, but not for the profit mode.”
The Alliance has worked because it made a successful appeal to business and the community that good public education is needed to help bring in good jobs.
“We need a strong public system so that people will stay in our community too,” Arbuckle said. “Greensboro and High Point came together because we needed to do something to build support for our schools. The alliance became the only organization that was created by the leadership of both cities and the county.”
Alliance funding has come from foundations and other private sources. The alliance operates independently of the county school district.
“We have a nice array of support,” Arbuckle said, “for our work and reports. We work with the schools, but we do not work for the schools.  We are on the outside, but to be effective, we have to have a strong relationship with the inside.  A friend can tell you when your slip is showing.”
Alliance work combines politics, school policy and fundraising. Through the urging of the Alliance and others, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners did not cut the county’s allocation for schools during the recession.
“All of that is hard work,” Arbuckle said. “We also took a closer work at the data to see what the schools were doing and what was needed to do.”
The Alliance has received national acclaim for its annual report, “Education Matters: Measuring School and Community Success,” and has published numerous reports on important education issues. 
“We have made strong investment in the collaboration in the early childhood programs resulting in a lot of our children getting into these programs,” Arbuckle said. “Through the public sector we have created choices and strong programs for every child so that more are graduating.”
A fundraising talent show and a supply warehouse for teachers were successful very quickly, Kearns said.
The collaboration has resulted in improved graduation rates at the high schools and the wide success of the middle and early colleges, academy programs and the newcomer school. 
“What is going on at the Aviation Academy at Andrews High to give students opportunities is fabulous,” Arbuckle said. “It’s the stories of the students that show our success.”
The next leader
The past 10 years saw public education move into the fire of political debate. The next Alliance leader will have to deal with the debate and funding, Arbuckle said.
“I feel good about the Alliance and where we are in the community,” Arbuckle said. “We have a good board and we work hard.  My leaving creates an opportunity. Even corporate leaders have a certain amount of time to get the job done.”
Winston McGregor, who led Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro for a decade will become interim executive director. McGregor’s leadership roles have included the Democratic Leadership Council, the American Council of Young Political Leaders and U.S. AID along with Habitat for Humanity.
Retirement Plans
Arbuckle said she will travel and take time to enjoy life at a slightly slower pace.
“This is a turning of the page for me,” Arbuckle said. “I won’t withdraw. There are chapters in life. It’s time for a new chapter. Leadership has a certain tenure. It’s time for a new chapter. I will take some being time.”
Arbuckle’s name will live on in a newly created award. The the first Margaret Bourdeaux Arbuckle Award will be presented this fall, according to sponsors. 
“If we strive to live up to the standards Margaret Arbuckle has set, if we work to see her vision through and with a little luck on our side, Margaret’s impact will be felt in Guilford County long after our youngest children have families of their own,” Nathan Duggins, chairman of the alliance’s board of directors, said in a news release announcing the award.

Margaret B. Arbuckle

—Executive director of the nonprofit Guilford Education Alliance since 2005.
—Former Guilford County commissioner.
—Former associate director of the Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships at University of North Carolina-Greensboro which focused on improving opportunities for children younger than school age.Education: Salem College, bachelor of arts in history; University of North Carolina at Greensboro, master’s and doctoral degrees in education and human development and family studies.

Alliance Programs
Education Summit: Keynote speakers have included national Teacher of the Year Ron Clark, and Jim Goodnight, president and founder of SAS, and most recently, Cynthia Marshall, the North Carolina president of AT&T.

On Stage!:  The annual spring performance with more than 400 performing arts students from Guilford County Schools. Grammy Award winner Anthony Dean Griffey and rock star Chris Daughtry have performed.

Education Leadership Academy:  Offered to community leaders to deepen their understanding of complex education issues.

Principal for a Day:  Community leaders shadow a school principal to gain greater insight into the challenges and opportunities within the schools.  To provide materials and equipment not otherwise available to students.

Teacher Supply Warehouse: Items donated by area businesses for teachers to use in their classrooms.