Barbara Day was born into a family of educators – teachers, principals and superintendents – and she carried on her family’s tradition with a four-decade long career dedicated to the field of education. She began a teacher after earning her bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University, transitioned to the position of principal following one year of teaching, and went on to become an assistant superintendent of schools in Chapel Hill City Schools while still in her 20s.
She earned her M.Ed. from UNC while working for the Chapel Hill City Schools, then came to the School of Education to direct a large grant that trained educators for leadership in early childhood in the Southeastern United States. Day went on to receive a Ph.D. from the institution where she has worked for 45 years, inhabiting a spacious corner office that overlooks the leafy side lawn of the Carolina Inn. As she prepares to retire as professor later this summer, Day will finally have the time to reflect on her many professional accomplishments, both in and outside of the School.
She has done just about everything a faculty member could do: directing the Carolina Teaching Fellows and the master’s programs, and chairing programs in Early Childhood, Elementary Education and Teaching and Learning, and for the past 20 years, chair of Curriculum and Instruction.
“I have taken a lot of different paths along the way, and they have all been interesting and wonderful,” Day said.
She is quick to extol the abilities of the thousands of students she has taught and supervised over the years. “We have the brightest students,” she said. “It’s been remarkable to teach these wonderful young people for so many years.
Day said that one of the highlights in her career has been following her students’ careers and seeing how much they have accomplished. “My students who have earned master’s degrees are now teaching in public schools all over the state and nation, and they are doing good things,” she said. And I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my doctoral students. In fact, I am now supervising my 63rd doctoral dissertation.”
“It has just been such a pleasure to work with so many bright and talented students,” she said. “I’ve worked with students who have gone on to become curriculum leaders for the public and private schools, and at the district, state and national levels. Also professors, lawyers, successful business executives, including designers of curriculum and instruction for many different education related organizations – so many different things, including one former student who went on to become the mayor of Chapel Hill.”
Day’s influence in the field of education goes far beyond the stone wall boundaries of the UNC campus. She has held numerous leadership positions throughout her career, serving terms as president of three major international education organizations. She founded the UNC Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society of Educators. In 2005, the society created a scholarship in her honor, the Dr. Barbara Day Laureate Scholarship for Doctoral Students in Curriculum and Instruction. She has also been honored with Kappa Delta Pi’s laureate membership, an honor received by such luminaries in the field of education as John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Day also served a term as president of the international Association for the Supervision of Curriculum Development and the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for Key Women Educators, which advocates for women in the field of education and where Day spearheaded a drive for a new Women’s Executive Leadership Training Program.
She received Delta Kappa Gamma’s International Achievement Award in 2009 in Oslo, Norway. When Day received the award, Carolyn Rants, International President of Delta Kappa Gamma from 2008 to 2010, credited her with “bringing new ideas and new projects to the organization and strongly advocating for women, increasing both leadership and professional development opportunities.” Rants praised Day as “a visionary,” who is “gracious, positive and encouraging” to those in her field.
Day has written and edited numerous textbooks during her long career, including Good Schools for Young Children (in its 5th edition), Early Childhood Education: Developmental/Experiential Teaching and Learning (in its 4th edition); Education in the 21st Century Key Issues: Leadership, Literacy, Legislation and Learning; and Teaching and Learning in the New Millennium. A number of books she has written or edited have been used at major universities around the world and translated into foreign languages.
She was a member of the Early Childhood Education Task Force of the National Association of School Boards that produced “Right From the Start,” an influential blueprint for early education, in 1988. She also served as chair of a nationwide consortium of 13 school districts for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The lead consultant of materials published by ASCO won her and her colleagues, the CINE Golden Eagle Award.
Her dedication to her profession earned Day the respect of her colleagues. “What made Barbara so exemplary were her outstanding problem-solving skills, ability to see many and viable options, and her capacity to delegate and complete multi-layered tasks,” said Bill Palmer, a former faculty member now retired from the School. “And most of all,” he said, “Barbara shared the gift of joy in everyday living during our tenure together.”
Her own joy in learning has been a lifelong process. After participating in The Education for Ministry program through the University of the South which was sponsored by her church, Day earned a master of divinity degree from Duke University. She received her summa cum laude degree from Duke along with a certificate in Anglican studies from Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in Alexandria in 2006, and is now working on her doctor of ministry degree there.
Day is as prolific on the speaking circuit as she has been in the classroom, giving lectures and programs in countries which include Canada, Great Britain, Estonia, China and Japan, among many others. “I am not really retiring; I’m relocating or reinventing, I plan to stay very active,” Day said. “I will be attending and speaking at a number of conferences and programs in the next year and I will be a full time graduate student next year, completing my dissertation at VTS.”
Day plans to continue traveling in retirement for her profession and to her home in Wilmington’s Historic District, one block from the Riverwalk. Her husband, Doug Day, a recently retired insurance executive, will become Governor of Kiwanis International for North Carolina and South Carolina in August. Together they have one daughter, Susan Douglas, and Day said she expects to spend more time enjoying her two grandsons, William and Henry Douglas and her godchildren and godgrandchildren.
Though she’ll be leaving her long-time home away from home in Peabody Hall, Day has no regrets about her long and accomplished career.
“The bottom line is that I have loved everything I have done professionally,” she said. “I have so loved being here, both in the School and at the University. When I go places and talk with people and I mention ‘Chapel Hill,’ it’s like saying the magic words. The University and the School of Education are so well known and respected everywhere you go, including around the world.
“I love the University,” Day said. “It’s such a wonderful place, and I recognize that this is the place that enabled me to become the person that I am and to accomplish the things that I have done.”