The UNC School of Education honored three alumni at its 20th annual Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony held Saturday, Oct. 15, at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
Recognized at the event were Gerry Hancock (’65 B.A.), a lawyer and North Carolina education advocate; Kristal Moore Clemons (’09 Ph.D.), who served as national director of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program; and Jackie Eunjung Relyea (’15 Ph.D.), an NC State faculty member.
Gerry Hancock, a partner at Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP whose legal practice has focused on transformative efforts to improve public education and expand opportunities for children, received the Peabody Award. After graduating from Carolina in 1965, he earned a law degree from Duke University and has been a member of the North Carolina Bar since 1971.
Since 1991, Hancock has served as legal counsel to the Low Wealth Schools Consortium of North Carolina. He organized the filing of the landmark Leandro v. NC in 1994, which established the right of every child to a “sound basic education.” He has advised the Leandro litigation team ever since.
Hancock led lobbying efforts in the North Carolina General Assembly for the Low Wealth Schools Supplemental Appropriation and the Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Fund, which now provides more than $300 million each year to 70+ low-wealth school districts.
In 1996, he led the lobbying effort to authorize a $1.8 billion statewide school construction bond issue and served as vice chair of the Partnership for Schools and Roads that won public approval for the bonds in a statewide referendum.
He was instrumental in efforts to secure the court-ordered WestEd Action Plan for North Carolina, a massive evidence-based documentation of the actions and funding required to assure every child’s opportunity for a sound basic education. The WestEd report became the basis for the State’s Comprehensive Remedial Plan and the Trial Court’s order for implementation of the Plan by 2028.
Hancock has played instrumental roles in organizations that have, as a central part of their mission, worked to expand educational opportunities for North Carolinians. These organizations include the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, the Public School Forum of North Carolina, the Rural Center of North Carolina, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Education NC, and The Innovation Project.
Kristal Moore Clemons, who served as national director of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program, was honored with the Distinguished Leadership Award.
Clemons led the national efforts of the Freedom Schools® program, a national movement that provides summer and after-school enrichment for K-12 scholars and their families through a research-based and culturally responsive program model featuring high-quality academic and character-building enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational servant leadership development; and nutrition, health, and mental health.
Clemons began her career as a servant leader intern in Chicago and has maintained this line of work and involvement wherever her own education took her. Prior to leading Freedom Schools nationally, she had two decades of involvement with the organization in various parts of the country, including North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida.
She has participated in teaching and learning in many different configurations — as a writing tutor, an instructor, a university professor, and an education program director. She has taught at the university level at Tallahassee Community College, Florida A&M University, Northeastern University, and Virginia State University, among other institutions. She has also served as a university program administrator, directing the online Ed.D. program at Florida State University, and as FSU’s associate director of the office of undergraduate research.
Jackie Eunjung Relyea, an assistant professor at the NC State College of Education whose work seeks to help bilingual students become proficient readers, received the Outstanding Young Alumna Award.
Relyea is committed to community-engaged research and practice to accomplish equity and quality in K-6 literacy education, as well as interdisciplinary collaboration and rigorous intellectual standards. As an assistant professor of literacy education, she researches literacy development of linguistically diverse children as well as reading interventions to improve English learners’ academic vocabulary, reading comprehension, and knowledge building.
When the College of Education’s Wolfpack Readers literacy tutoring program suffered from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Relyea led the development of iWolfpack Readers, an online version, and launched it for elementary school students in a Title I school in Wake County.
The iWolfpack Readers curriculum is designed to promote elementary-grade students’ increased exposure to complex informational texts and to support the development of content knowledge in science and social studies that students could leverage for higher-order text comprehension.
Relyea is also co-principal investigator on the Institute of Education Sciences grant that will use a Building Knowledge and Language through Inquiry Framework to help bilingual readers strengthen language and literacy skills while building knowledge about interesting topics in various academic disciplines. In addition, as a principal investigator on the American Educational Research Association-National Science Foundation Research Grant, she currently leads a longitudinal investigation on whether and how multilingual children’s English reading ability and science content knowledge co-develop over the course of elementary school years.