HAMLET — Kenneth and Claudia Robinette have established the largest annual scholarship ever at Richmond Community College, to help the county “grow its own” teachers.
Beginning next fall, the Lois McKay Smith Memorial Scholarship for Future Teachers will give $2,000 yearly to five students who take up teacher training after completing their general-education courses at RCC. For those who continue their studies at the University of North Carolina Pembroke and pursue teacher certification, that amounts to a full ride.
“We’re intending it to be long term,” Kenneth Robinette said Thursday. The scholarship offer has no cap.
“We both sat down with (college President Dale) McInnis and asked what we could do to move the needle,” Robinette said — that is, what would do the most good for both RCC and the county. Together, Robinette said, the Robinettes and McInnis came up with financing teacher education.
Kenneth Robinette is chairman of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners and Claudia Robinette chairs the RCC Board of Trustees.
It’s no secret that Richmond County experiences teacher-recruitment stress at the beginning of each school year. In 2017, for example, the district found itself more than a dozen teachers short three weeks before the start of classes. So it put out feelers to lure fledgling teachers from other states.
To alleviate some of that stress, the commissioners this year initiated a 10 percent raise for teacher supplements, local money added to salaries to help boost teacher recruitment and retention. In 2017-18, teachers with bachelor’s degrees will receive an average supplement of $1,202.88; those with master’s degrees will receive an average of $1,312.93.
But Robinette said other incentives weren’t enough — Richmond County had to grow its own teachers and keep them in the county.
“It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to live in Richmond County” and go to school, Robinette said. And because of online courses and distance learning, “you can get a four-year degree and never leave the county.”
Richmond County Schools Superintendent Cindy Goodman welcomed the Robinettes’s gesture.
“I am so grateful for the generosity of the Robinettes,” she said. “As we are facing a statewide teacher shortage, this will hopefully increase the pool of quality applicants in Richmond County.”
The Robinettes named the scholarship after Claudia Robinette’s mother, who taught at RCC from 1978 to 1991.
Lois McKay Smith was what people today would call a “nontraditional student.” She began her college studies but interrupted them to marry and rear a family. Years later, she finished her social studies degree at UNC Pembroke.
RCC President McInnis noted that the scholarship also was “intended for folks who are changing careers, just like Mrs. Smith did.”
Claudia Robinette said she and her husband were “very pleased and proud … to honor my mother” in a way that also honored teaching.
RCC and UNC Pembroke have what is called the UNCP Elementary Education transfer pathway, through which students can complete their first two years at RCC before transferring to UNC Pembroke.
The scholarship does not specify, however, that recipients must attend UNC Pembroke.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.