Commitment, Time and Teamwork

by May 16, 2024Education, People, Southport Oak Island

Brunswick Schools Superintendent Dale Cole is on a mission to connect with students, teachers, principals, staff, parents and the community.

Those who step into Dale Cole’s office might notice a certain word displayed on the wall behind his desk. As Brunswick County Schools’ new superintendent, “connect” stands as a constant reminder of his primary goal. With a strong vision for the future and an appreciation of the great work being done in the schools every day, Cole’s mission is to connect with students, teachers, principals, school staff and the community at large to share ideas for ways to make the county’s schools stronger than ever.

Born in Southport, Cole moved to Beaufort County as a young child when his father, an electrician, purchased his grandfather’s electric motor repair business. Growing up from humble roots, Cole was the first in his family to go to college. His father, a small business owner, never finished high school, nor did his mother, who went back to school to get her GED before spending 38 years working as a substitute teacher, data manager and school treasurer.

Dale Cole BCS Superintendent

Cole graduated from East Carolina University (ECU) with a degree in English and went on to teach high school in the Greenville area. During his time at Southside High School, he earned recognition as county teacher of the year in English and coached his school’s football team in two state championship games.

After a decade spent teaching, coaching, getting married and having three children, Cole set his sights on leadership opportunities as he felt he still had more to give. He earned his master’s degree in 2008 and landed his first assistant principal job, then moved to a principal position at a nearby struggling middle school, where he became recognized as the “turnaround principal” of Beaufort County.

“They started putting me in schools that were struggling to get them turned around in the right direction,” Cole says.

These accomplishments led to Cole becoming North Carolina’s Principal of the Year for 2013, an honor that put him on the State Board of Education that year in representation of all principals of the state. He served as a school-based administrator for another decade before moving to a new role as a school transformation coach, where he worked in underperforming schools to help elevate them from low-performing status.

“It was a great opportunity to coach principals in other districts and work with their school improvement teams to turn those schools around,” Cole says. “I had a good amount of success, because over half the schools I worked with met or exceeded growth and exited low-performing status in those two years.”

After going back to ECU to earn his superintendent’s license, Cole was hired by Hyde County Schools as an assistant superintendent. His career then took him to the mountains of Clay County in 2019, where he spent the next four years as superintendent and helped bring the district from its ranking of 36th in the state out of 115 districts to 12th by the time he left this past year. Ultimately, however, Cole decided to move back to the eastern part of the state and be closer to family. When Brunswick County’s position opened, he knew it was meant for him.

An avid boater, duck hunter and golfer, Cole loves all the county has to offer and feels it is the perfect spot for him to call home.

“There aren’t many places nicer to live than Brunswick County,” Cole says. “I think there’s a huge amount of potential in this school district, and I’m excited to be here and be a part of this. I believe this will probably be my last stop in my career, so when I walk out the door, I want to know I made a positive difference.”

Dale Cole Superintendent

Cole believes Brunswick County Schools already does a lot of things well, but there are still many improvements that can be made to become even stronger. He says true academic results come down to the quality of teachers and principals, so he’s focusing on the results of the state’s most recent biannual teacher working conditions survey to gauge how the teachers in Brunswick County feel about things directly impacting their work environment.

“Beyond pay, determining how we can improve our teachers’ work environment is extremely important to me, because it goes directly to the recruitment and retention of the best staff we can get,” Cole says.

After reviewing the survey data, Cole says he is narrowing his focus first on several foundational areas related to order and trust, as those are the things most critical to establishing and maintaining high-performing school status. To increase order, the county has implemented a digital discipline referral process in all schools as well as positive behavior and intervention teams at each school charged with defining student expectations in each area of the school and on the buses.

To increase trust, Cole and his team are working to retrain all principals and school improvement team chairs on how the school improvement planning process is meant to work. This includes reviewing how school improvement team members are elected, whether they are meeting or not and making sure the team is truly a team concept that represents all teachers and staff.

BCS Superintendent Dale Cole

“By reviewing the survey results at each school with its principal, we can work together to see what needs to change to improve teacher working conditions, thereby improving teacher recruitment and retention, thereby improving the academic outcomes for our students, because they’re all linked,” Cole says.

Cole is currently working on writing the county’s new five-year strategic plan, and his vision for the future includes hitting many milestones he believes are achievable in the years to come.

He wants to see Brunswick County become one of the top 20 ranked school districts in the state, as well as make the top 3 in career technical education. He also hopes to have more than 80% of the county’s seniors earn at least one college credit, a nationally recognized job certification while still in high school and a 90% minimum graduation rate.

“I’d also love to see every kid complete an internship outside of school in one of our businesses in the county before they graduate, and I want every one of our schools to meet or exceed growth every year,” Cole says. “I have a lot of big goals, but I think they’re all doable, it’s just going to take commitment, time and teamwork.”

Photography by Matt McGraw