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New professorship in early literacy established with $1.5M from Goodnight Foundation

elementary education


By Bill Studenc

Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions is the recipient of a $1.5 million gift from the Goodnight Educational Foundation to create a new endowed professorship in the field of early literacy.

The Goodnight Distinguished Professorship in Early Literacy at WCU will be established pending receipt of a requested $1 million match from the University of North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, which would bring the total amount of the fund to $2.5 million.

The endowed professorship, the 27th funded at WCU since 1996, represents the first investment in WCU by the Goodnight Educational Foundation, which has an extensive record of providing financial support for programs and projects in education and the arts across North Carolina.

“We are extremely grateful to the generosity of the Goodnight Foundation for its support of early childhood literacy,” said WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. “The ability to read and write is the cornerstone of success not only for students in the classroom, but also for productive and engaged members of society. This is why Western Carolina University was founded nearly 135 years ago— to provide educational opportunities to the people of the western mountains of North Carolina. Teaching and learning are embedded deeply in this institution’s DNA, and through donations like the one from the Goodnight Foundation we are able to further our opportunities in these areas.”

A national search to select the Goodnight Distinguished Professor of Early Literacy is now underway, said Kim Winter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.

“We are beyond excited about this professorship and anxious to get started on the journey to find an excellent candidate,” Winter said. “Our college has been heavily involved in early literacy since 2017, and our faculty and programs are deeply committed to and passionate about the preparation of teachers. This generous gift will enable us to take our efforts in early literacy to an even higher level, for the benefit of the children of Western North Carolina.”

When appointed, WCU’s Goodnight Distinguished Professor of Early Literacy will join seven other distinguished professors to provide a network of early literacy expertise designed to help advance the UNC System’s current literacy initiatives through engaging in outreach and sharing best practices, Winter said.

The Goodnight Educational Foundation was co-founded by James J. Goodnight, founder and chief executive officer of SAS, an international analytics software company based in in Cary, and spouse Ann Goodnight, who is senior director of community relations at SAS. The foundation is providing gifts to create endowed professorships in early literacy at three other UNC institutions, and the C.D. Spangler Foundation is making contributions for similar professorships at four system institutions.

“Achieving third grade reading proficiency is one of the most critical milestones in a child’s educational journey,” the Goodnights said. “To ensure more children reach this goal, we need teachers educated in the science of reading. We are pleased to sponsor a professorship that will cultivate more of these talented educators, and allow more young students to have the very best in reading instruction.”

A portion of the Goodnight Foundation’s gift to WCU is designated for immediate use funding to be distributed evenly in the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 academic years to enable the university to fill the distinguished professorship by the 2023 fall semester.

The committee will be seeking candidates with a proven track record of teaching evidence-based early literacy practices, currently known as “the science of reading,” within a teacher education or preschool-through-12th grade setting, and who can successfully articulate current reading research into effective practice in the classroom.

Candidates should have an earned doctorate in elementary education, reading, literacy, early childhood education, special education or a closely related field from an accredited university and the ability to hold a faculty rank of tenured full professor.

Goodnight Distinguished Professors across North Carolina may be asked to serve on statewide literacy committees in an advisory capacity to elevate how UNC System institutions are ensuring the production of well-prepared teachers of reading. In addition, the cadre of professors will enhance partnerships with school districts across North Carolina to foster collaboration between teacher education programs and current teachers in the field.

WCU’s Goodnight Professor will be responsible for establishing programs to ensure the preparation of teacher candidates in evidence-based practices in literacy instruction aligned with the UNC System Literacy Framework, and will be called upon to expand continuing support for teachers of reading. The professor will collaborate with literacy faculty in the Birth-Kindergarten, Elementary Education and Inclusive Education programs at WCU.

The selected candidate will be expected to conduct outreach as a literacy champion and facilitator of professional development and seminars in collaboration with partners including regional school systems and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teachers and participate in state-level literacy efforts associated with North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and other organizations. 

Candidates should have an established history of securing external funding and must have a track record of research productivity in early literacy. 

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