#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘A Quality Education is a Game Changer for All Children, But is a Dire Need for Children in Poverty,’ Says 2021-22 CCRESA Regional Superintendent of the Year Valerie Bridges ’02MSA, ’10EDD
This is part of a monthly “Why I Chose Education” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they chose education.
When Valerie Bridges ’02MSA, ’10EDD was growing up, she witnessed firsthand the impact a teacher could have on the lives of students through her mother, Gloria Howard, now a retired educator with over 30 years of experience.
Bridges says her mother was a champion for both her children at home and school, and that she always put her students first and dedicated herself to their learning. That inspired Bridges to eventually pursue a career in education.
“In my numerous roles in education, from teacher to superintendent, I have always tried to live up to the example that she set – students first. When we work to ensure students experience success and support then our focus is clear and our passion has purpose,” she said.
When Bridges graduated from UNC Wilmington with a bachelor’s degree in accountancy, she started her career as a tax auditor for the N.C. Department of Revenue before becoming a state auditor for the State Auditor’s Office. While working as a state auditor, she began a teacher training program through St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.
That training program led her to a position as a high school teacher in Wake County. While there, her assistant principal encouraged her to become a school administrator, leading her to enroll in the Master of School Administration program in the NC State College of Education.
From there, Bridges took the leap into school administration as a middle school assistant principal. Throughout her administration career, Bridges has served as an elementary school principal, a director of middle grades education and student support services, an assistant and associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and an interim superintendent, working between Wake, Guilford, Washington and Edgecombe counties. As she continued to grow and move into various leadership roles, she earned a Doctor of Education in educational leadership from the College of Education.
For the past four years, she has served as superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools.
“My goal and purpose has always been to make a positive impact in the lives of children. We know that a quality education is a game changer for all children, but is a dire need for children in poverty,” she said.
Bridges’ passion and purpose for making a positive impact and providing children with a quality education is one of the reasons she was named the 2021-22 Central Carolina Regional Education Service Alliance (CCRESA) Regional Superintendent of the Year.
When Bridges isn’t working, she enjoys reading, traveling, shopping for shoes, watching college basketball and professional football, and “becoming quite good at golf.” Bridges is also extremely passionate about providing everyone an opportunity to reach their full potential. “I think only a fraction of our students and adults really reach their full potential,” she said. “There is lots of good work to do in this world, so let’s get started.”
She shares why she chose the NC State College of Education to pursue her advanced degrees, what she enjoyed most about being a part of the college, an experience within the college that impacted her career, how education has shaped her and a recent event that has inspired her.
Why I Chose the NC State College of Education: NC State’s College of Education was suggested by a colleague of mine, Mr. William I. Parker. He was my assistant principal during my tenure as a high school principal. Mr. Parker was an advocate for me and recognized my leadership skills and abilities from the beginning of my teaching career.
What I Enjoyed Most About Being Part of the College of Education: Although there was much to enjoy from my NC State experiences, I most enjoyed my professors, as many of them were former school administrators with a proven track record of success. They were able to share real experiences and scenarios to help us grow and engage in the learning process collaboratively. I was not a part of an official cohort but there was a small group of graduate students that took courses together; therefore, our interactions were similar to a cohort. I worked in Wake County Public Schools at the time that I was at NC State for my MSA degree. There were several other graduate students who also worked in Wake County at various levels, which provided an awesome experience and great camaraderie.
An Experience Within the College of Education That Impacted My Career: Scenarios and classroom discussions were powerful for the master’s and doctoral programs.The engagement in class was amazing. The interactiveness allows students to be transparent in class while asking questions of each other and our professor. There was always follow up on our queries, relevant guest speakers, and a clear emphasis on doing the right work for students. Class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings was an opportunity to learn and teach. We were comfortable sharing our experiences and gaining valuable guidance and advice. During my master’s and doctoral classes is when journaling and self reflection were truly embedded into my personal and professional processes. Journaling has served as a therapeutic and healing remedy for a heavy day. Journaling is also a great method for capturing and memorializing success and beautiful moments.
How Education Has Shaped Me: Education and experience have been the cornerstone of my success. I have been fortunate to have served in a number of positions in education. No position was less important than the other. All shaped me and helped me to empathize with children, families and communities, both like and unlike me. It’s imperative to be able to empathize and advocate for and with others.
My education has provided me with opportunities to be selected to lead. People often see your resume (applications) before they see you and know your work. I have always valued education and aspired to learn formally as well as informally. Education is our best effort at closing gaps and eliminating inequities.
The Last Thing I Experienced That Inspired Me: A couple of weeks ago, I was able to listen in (virtually) to a class with high school students from Tarboro High School. The class showcased a demonstration activity with an industry person and the classroom teacher. The students were learning how to build a smart watch. The students were highly engaged in the activity. The students fearlessly and confidently answered and asked questions. The industry person shared the salary ranges as well as the future of STEM. I loved the high engagement and brisk pace of the lesson.