New faces of the SBE: William Cobey Jr., Chairman of the Board

New faces of the SBE: William Cobey Jr., Chairman of the Board

- in Education


NC Policy Watch is talking with nominees for the State Board of Education to give our readers a sense of their backgrounds and philosophies on education policy in the state of North Carolina.

Three open slots on the State Board of Education were slated to be filled under Governor Perdue back in 2011. Her nominees were ignored by state lawmakers until the end of her term, and the nominees we had in January were Governor McCrory’s picks. Three additional slots, also nominated by Gov. McCrory, opened up in late March.

Name: William Cobey, Jr.

Occupation: Former one-term U.S. Congressman from the State of North Carolina. Briefly taught elementary school, coached in high schools, and taught a few college courses. Spent time in the banking and chemical industries. Chairman of the Board for Trinity School of Durham in Chapel Hill on and off for the past 17 years.

Education and training: Product of Maryland public schools in Prince George’s county. Received B.S. in chemistry from Emory University in Atlanta, MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh.  Former athletic director for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Current residence: Chapel Hill, NC

From: Born in Washington, DC

Family: Married for more than 48 years to his wife who went to the same elementary, junior and high schools as he did.  They have two children together.

Hobbies: Spends time with grandchildren, loves to travel, especially to the beach. Lifelong learner and loves to read. Gives away his time to various causes and boards. Carolina fan.

Why he is interested in serving on the State Board of Education: “When Governor McCrory was elected, I looked at all of the ways I could be helpful to him and the administration.”

Cobey decided he could be helpful in education. “So I let it be known that I was interested in being nominated to serve. Not only was I nominated, but the Governor asked that the Board elect me as chairman. So it was a matter of looking at where I could be most helpful.”

Cobey also explained he cares passionately about the education of children, not least of all because it is a tragedy for a child to not be able to read and do simple math. “How do you live in a global world where you can’t do basic skills?”

What do you see are the major issues facing public education this year? “I’m not sure that the issues change from year to year. The top issue is how do we properly integrate technology into the teaching of children and even college students. It’s expensive, tricky, it has upsides and downsides, but we’ve got to go in that direction because there are so many advantages to using technology to educate.”

Cobey also mentioned the importance of articulation agreements between the K-12 and UNC systems. “The way we keep young people in school is to meet them where they are. School should be exciting, challenging, and students need to know they are headed in direction of lifetime vocation that they can be very excited about and interested in. Cooperation between high schools and community colleges is critical.”

“Not everybody is going to go to college. We need to prepare as many as we can to go to college, but not everyone is interested and gifted in that way, but they are gifted in other ways. There are so many great vocations that they could be trained in, especially in a high tech world. We need nursing, electrical work, computer work — it’s an endless plethora of things that are out there and as leaders we need to work hard to meet the needs of students so they can graduate ready to go to college or work.”

What is your position on:

    • Online virtual charter schools: “I don’t know enough about it to really answer that question. I believe there are going to be virtual schools, in fact they already exist. We have a public virtual high school. My views are developing. One thing I was thinking about this morning is how do you configure it so that there are all the right safeguards for delivery of online education. Frankly, I don’t know the answer.”
    • Vouchers and education tax credits: “I am in favor of parental school choice within traditional schools, magnet schools, different course offerings. I am for private education options that help those who are economically deprived but need a private education or public charter school.”“I won’t say I am for one bill or another, but you can put me down in favor of parental school choice. I am convinced that one size does not fit all. The needs vary from county to county, region to region in North Carolina. When you’re a parent, you only have one shot at helping your children get the best education suited to them. Those who are needy don’t have choices and I want to be part of them having choices.”
    • Current funding for public schools: “I want our average teacher salaries to go up. That takes money. I would like for there to be more funding for public schools. However, I realize the economic reality. There are so many needs in our state, and we have the fourth highest level of unemployment of any state and we have a reasonably high tax burden, so it’s very tricky.
      It’s very tough for our General Assembly and our Governor to balance priorities and come up with adequate funding for everything. I don’t have to make those choices, but I really respect those that have to make them.”
    • Merit pay for teachers: “I favor rewarding financially those who do a clearly outstanding job in the classroom. It’s very difficult to measure, but I want us to try to find something that allows us to reward our most outstanding master teachers because the most important thing is who the classroom teacher is. I know that and I want every child in this state to have an outstanding teacher. I want to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
    • A-F grading system for schools: “I will let the General Assembly sort that out, they are getting input from the leadership at DPI. They are coming up with different ways to calculate the grades for different schools. It’s an ongoing discussion and different things are being factored in, but what I see is once there is a compromise between the House and Senate, we will have some sort of grading system and it is our job as the State Board of Education to implement what the General Assembly gives us and we will do the best we can.”

How do you describe your politics? “I’m a lifelong Republican from my college days.”

Something about you most people don’t know: “I live in Chapel Hill, not Raleigh. And even though I’ve been a politician and have held high profile jobs, I tend to be a very private person. Not the type of person who is out and about at night. I’m a homebody.”

About the author

Lindsay Wagner, former Education Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch. Wagner now works for the A.J. Fletcher Foundation as Education Specialist. She has also worked for the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., as a writer and researcher focusing on higher education issues and for the National Education Association, the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright program and the Brookings Institution.