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As a child growing up in a single-parent home, I know first-hand what it’s like to not have.  

cunningham

My mother would work two jobs and model the value of hard work. 

Her only goal was to do what it took to give us the best possible life. 

As I became a parent myself, I began to understand the sacrifices she made.

One valuable lesson I learned that shaped my life happened after I was cut from the basketball team in high school. 

I decided to learn how to play the saxophone.  

My mother earned $6.35 an hour and the cost to rent one was $35. 

I don’t know how she was able to pay the rental fee but she did it and I was able to join the marching band. 

Today, the saxophone represents the sacrifice made by my mother — an investment towards my education.

These lessons have helped to prepare me for the challenges we are currently facing.  

I think you would agree with me that so far 2020 could reasonably be characterized as a year fraught of challenges and uncertainty. We are certainly living differently.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” 

Since 2016, Halifax County Schools has charted a new course by implementing an instructional focus to protect and value instructional time in order to close the deficits that many of our children have today.

The most recent data shows that HCS has hit a 15-year high in the graduation rate. 

Today, I am happy to report that our graduation rate is 84 percent up from 77 percent last year. This positive increase is one of the highest in North Carolina.

To continue this trend, we must not pause nor amend our voyage due to unexpected events. Our goal is to continue to turn challenges into opportunities. 

A perfect example is our new 1:1 program. 

Our goal was to leverage the effects of this pandemic and provide 100 percent of our students — including kindergarteners — with a Chromebook. 

We accomplished the goal. 

Of 2,194 devices handed out, 99 percent of our parents stepped up to the plate and committed $4 per month for a device with accidental protection.

When I came to Halifax County, I was told that Halifax County Schools was a poverty-stricken, low performing district. Many referred to us as “115”, but our data is beginning to tell a different story. 

The new data shows a district on the rise. 

Our mindset must move as well. We must develop a growth mindset. 

What I have learned through our Chromebook initiative is that parents and community stakeholders have bought into what we are doing. 

I am grateful. 

Whether we agree or disagree, I believe the collaboration will make our schools better and community stronger.

The challenges we face right now deal with connectivity. 

In order to compete in and prepare for the global economy, our students need and deserve access to the internet. 

HCS has a total of 250 hotspots to assist parents at a cost of $60,000 a year for the district but no cost for the parents. 

I appreciate the board of commissioners for allowing me the opportunity to share with them our needs.  

One day we will be judged on our handling of this crisis.  When they do, how we reacted will become another chapter in the Halifax County Schools story. 

I am committed and determined to make sure that it’s a proud chapter of continuous improvement and resilience, worthy of those who gave me the opportunity to lead.

Eric L. Cunningham is superintendent of Halifax County Schools