Members of the School of Social Work’s administrative faculty and members of the Board of Advisors recently joined state, education, corporate and other leaders to honor Howard N. Lee, MSW ’66, who was named the 2017 recipient of the Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award. Lee was presented with the award last month in Raleigh at a gala sponsored by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. The Public School Forum created the award to honor the late Dr. Jay Robinson, one of the state’s most distinguished education leaders and the Forum’s first president. The award recognizes exemplary leaders who have made outstanding contributions to public education.
Lee made history in Chapel Hill in 1969, becoming the first African American elected as mayor of a predominantly white southern town since reconstruction. He served three terms and later became the first African American to be named a cabinet secretary as secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, and the first to chair the state Board of Education. He was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1990 and served 13 years, during which time he held several powerful committee chairmanships and sponsored or co-sponsored several major pieces of education legislation, including Smart Start, More at Four, the Excellent Schools Act for school reform and the Safe Schools Act. Lee later served as chairman of the state Board of Education and as an appointed member of the state Utilities Commission.
In addition to serving on the faculty of the School of Social Work, Lee also served as an administrator at Duke University and on the faculty of North Carolina Central University. Since 2011, he has spent most of his time as president of the Howard N. Lee Institute focused on developing initiatives in middle and high schools to increase the number of disadvantaged students graduating from high school prepared to succeed in a post-secondary institution.
The Public School Forum of North Carolina contributed to this report.