Can one person change the course of history? Assuredly so: seminal events throughout our collective past illuminate the power of one life – lived well – to make a difference. What separates the wheat from the chaff? History’s most celebrated leaders are all defined by their unrelenting pursuit of excellence, whatever their chosen vocation. Winston Churchill, one of the titans of the 20th century, summed up his personal standards this way: “I am easily satisfied with the very best.”

When it comes to education leaders, the bar is set just as high: advances and reforms have occurred only at the behest of individuals who sought and cultivated educational excellence. Consider that before 1998, low-income children in our country had few schooling options outside of traditional public schools. But investor Ted Forstmann and Wal-Mart heir John Walton changed that, founding the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF). CSF’s mission is to “maximize educational opportunity at all income levels by offering tuition assistance for needy families and promoting a diverse and competitive educational environment.” Over the last eight years, more than 67,000 children have benefited from these scholarships, redeeming them at private schools of choice across the U.S. CSF has gone on to become the largest private education initiative in the country, and has been named one of the top 100 charities in the United States by Worth magazine.

In our own state, the futures of thousands of children have become brighter because of one man’s commitment to educational excellence. In 1999, Julian Robertson, New York financier and Salisbury native, donated $1.5 million to establish the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Charlotte, providing much-needed tuition assistance to low-income families in the Charlotte area. Each year since its inception, CSF-Charlotte has enabled more than 400 children to attend a private or parochial school of choice – an option they would not otherwise have had.

Julian Robertson believed in the transformational power of school choice, and its ability to raise the bar for all students. In recognition of his visionary efforts, the North Carolina Education Alliance nominated him for the “H. Glenn Williams Power of One Award” in 2003 – an award which he easily won.

This award, named for long-time Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteer and children’s advocate, Glenn Williams, is given annually at the North Carolina Education Ball. This year, the 4th annual North Carolina Education Ball will be held on June 3, 2006, at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, with proceeds going to benefit Communities In Schools of North Carolina, a dropout prevention program. Progress Energy, the award’s sponsor, is seeking to recognize up to 3 individuals, organizations, or corporations that have demonstrated contributions of time and/or resources to educational efforts in our state. The selection committee asks citizens to nominate those who might not otherwise be recognized.

Please note that this award is not limited to individuals involved in traditional public schools or even Communities In Schools; educators/citizens working with charter, private and home schools are also eligible. In fact, this award represents a high-profile opportunity for choice supporters to honor and showcase the efforts of our most effective reformers. Please consider submitting a nomination, and act soon – the deadline is March 31st. Let’s make sure we honor the “power of one” – to effect change and to encourage excellence – in the lives of students.