For Nathan Currie, a life without learning is simply unimaginable. This assistant superintendent for the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina was raised by parents who valued education and hard work above all else—something he seeks to instill in his own students today.
“Education was the plain true gospel in my family,” he says. “It was the foundation that my mom and dad believed in.”
Before Currie was born in North Carolina, his father was wounded while serving in the United States Army in Vietnam. Though he was rendered permanently blind by his injury, Currie’s father was a brick mason, an auto mechanic, a scoutmaster and an active member of his church community. He never let his disability deter him from putting in a long day at work and living life to its fullest. All the while Currie’s mother was there by his side, serving as his father’s eyes and ears, and Currie helped his father navigate the world around him, too.
“Of all the life skills [my parents] taught me, the biggest is that you cannot make any excuses for any handicap you have. The world doesn’t want to hear it,” he says. “If anyone could make excuses, it was [my father], and he didn’t.”
So when Currie’s dreams of becoming a musician were dashed after a car accident his senior year of high school, he just kept on going. His injuries, which required him to have reconstructive surgery on his mouth, cut his alto saxophone-playing days short. Amid the disappointment came good news, though: Currie learned he was accepted at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, on full scholarship.
“I had happened to stumble upon the application in the guidance office,” he recalls. “[Livingstone College] was recruiting minorities into the field of education.”
It was a natural fit for Currie, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1999. He began teaching fifth grade in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, where he continued for seven years. He thrived in his new career, and under his guidance his students earned some of the highest test scores in the district.
Having been raised in a close-knit school community, Currie set out to create a similar environment in Rowan County. Though the school system didn’t offer organized sports, he coached basketball at his school and launched an after-school readers theater program. During that time, Currie was honored as teacher of the year for his active involvement with and dedication to his students.
Return to the classroom
Though Currie enjoyed being at the head of the class, his days as a student weren’t over yet. “I knew the impact I had on 28 kids in the classroom, and I knew in administration I would be in a position to have a greater impact on more kids,” he explains. “My goal was to obtain the credentials I needed to make that happen.”
So he enrolled at University of Phoenix in 2003 and realized the University’s schedule could accommodate his busy lifestyle. He began the Master of Arts in Education with a Concentration in Administration and Supervision program the day his son was born. Two years later, he graduated on his son’s second birthday, a coincidence Currie sees as meaningful.
A greater impact
A month before his graduation, Currie was hired as an assistant principal at a nearby school, marking the start of his career in education administration. After two years, he was hired to lead a minority achievement program in Duplin County, overseeing efforts at six middle schools with an enrollment of 3,000.
Then Currie was recruited back to the Rowan-Salisbury School System to serve as principal of a low-performing middle school, one that already was on the state’s watch list. He had to implement changes swiftly and effectively to make a difference for those children. “We didn’t have time,” says Currie of the urgent situation. “We had lives and we had education. We couldn’t miss a beat.”
Thankfully, he didn’t. “At the end of the year, for the first time, the school had met all state and federal goals,” he says. The following year, it exceeded its goals, becoming a high-growth school.
Spurred by this success, Currie was ready for an even bigger challenge. He had gone from the classroom to the principal’s office, making a measurable impact on the quality of education at every stop along the way. Next, he set his sights on the assistant superintendent position at Rowan-Salisbury Schools in his quest to “influence a greater magnitude of people.”
He was hired to fill this second-in-command post at Rowan-Salisbury Schools, which has an enrollment of more than 20,000 students at 35 schools. As assistant superintendent, Currie oversees all student services, including school nurses, social workers, intervention programs and athletics.
His real passion lies in transforming his schools with digital technology, providing a device for each child. “Our vision is to enhance and expand upon our technology to improve literacy in our school district,” he says.
He also seeks to make education relevant for students so they stick with it. “One thing we look at is engaging our students,” he says. “If we can give them real-world problems to solve, [their education] has more meaning.”
For his part, he’s continuing his own lifelong learning with a doctoral degree, Currie’s goal is to “continue to seek avenues where I can have a greater impact on education.”
Though he’s not sure exactly what that will look like, he does know this: “I want to be remembered as someone who had a positive impact on education.”
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