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Wilson Forward annual meeting focuses on education

PNC Bank Regional President Jim Hansen stressed third grade reading proficiency as an important benchmark in a student’s education during his keynote remarks for Wilson Forward’s annual meeting Tuesday.

“Through third grade, a child learns to read, and after third grade, they read to learn. If they don’t have it, they go silent. They don’t have the confidence. They’re not reading to learn. They go silent in the classroom,” Hansen told a crowd of business leaders and other stakeholders at Barton College’s Hardy Alumni Hall.

Hansen added that a child who meets that milestone is three times more likely to graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary training or education. Those who don’t are four times more likely to drop out of high school. 

The annual meeting, titled “The Tipping Point: Where Education Meets Workforce,” focused on the ways education and workforce development interact. Wilson Forward is a collection of local leaders from a wide variety of sectors focused on collaborating on ways to improve Wilson. 

“The correlation between our workforce and a vibrant, sustainable business landscape is clear,” Hansen said. “Education is absolutely critical for developing the workforce needed to be competitive in business, and I firmly believe that business leaders across the state and those I talk with know that all of our counties have to be equipped to foster a pipeline that can deliver on our region’s growth opportunities.”

Hansen said the Wilson County careers in highest demand — such as registered nurse and operations manager — require lifelong learning and retooling.

Hansen also focused on the importance of investing in early childhood education, saying it’s harder to close gaps later in life than to ensure that all young students are on equal footing. 

“Experts say that 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5,” he said. “We also know that gaps in knowledge and the ability of children who have little to no access to necessary resources against their more advantaged peers surface long before kindergarten, long before they step foot in Wilson County Schools.”

Hansen added that these gaps persist and create barriers to economic mobility throughout someone’s life. He said communities should support the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ pre-K program and make sure it’s available to as many children as possible. 


Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills, Barton College President Doug Searcy and Wilson Community College President Tim Wright joined Hansen for a panel discussion. The group fielded questions from attendees.

Wright said marketing is the first investment he would make for the community college if additional resources were available.

“And I use marketing in the broadest possible sense of the term and, at the same time, a very specific sense meaning greater ability to get meaningful information about what the community college offers, the opportunities it offers, to the people who really need to take advantage of that opportunity and get it to them in a meaningful way,” Wright said. 

Panelists discussed ways to promote and recognize teachers to ensure they feel respected and heard, the ways in which education leaders connect with business leaders to ensure educational outcomes meet workforce needs and some possible quick ways that local organizations can help improve education.

“These are serious issues, and if you can’t tell by my tone, I am extremely optimistic about Wilson County and about the resources we can have put in place to solve these problems, but it takes all of us to jump in,” Searcy said.


Savannah Story, Kelsey Newsome and Jon Ferguson, three members of the Wilson Leadership Institute’s 2022 cohort, presented the group’s report on attracting educators to Wilson County Schools and retaining them throughout their teaching careers.

The Wilson Leadership Institute is a partnership between Wilson Forward, the Wilson Chamber of Commerce and Wilson Economic Development Council focused on local leadership development.

The cohort’s research consisted of two teacher surveys that helped the group determine which factors were important to educators when making the decision to stay or leave the profession and why new teachers choose Wilson County Schools.

Unrealistic expectations, inconsistent positions and better pay were the most common reasons educators cited for leaving the profession and the most common causes of concern for the future of those in the field.

The trio presented no-cost, lost-cost and some-funding-required solutions based on the research.

Among the ideas were creation of a teacher advisory board, weekly email newsletter blasts with information about resources, creating networking and team-building opportunities for teachers, adding to the beginning teacher support team and providing increased supply stipends.

More information on the cohort’s report is available at