CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- When President Joe Biden's education secretary Miguel Cardona arrived in Charlotte, Monday, Durham Public Schools teacher Turquoise LeJeune Parker was one of just the small handful of Triangle educators invited to be there in person.
"Helping him understand that listening is the main way we transform our school and our communities," Parker told ABC11 about the roundtable discussion.
Escorted by Congresswoman Alma Adams, Cardona toured classrooms at Charlotte HBCU, Johnson C. Smith University. He also made an after-hours visit to a Charlotte-Meck elementary school. All focused on the importance of re-engaging students and building excitement about a return to in-person learning. A move DPS and Mrs. Parker made last spring.
"We were able to let them know what that looks like because we were there," Parker said. "I was in the building for the return to school."
Parker described Durham's return to in-person learning as "different," "difficult" and "weird." She is a specialist, Lakewood Elementary's media coordinator. Parker teaches every class, once a week. Last spring that meant half her students were remote, the other in-person.
"So I might have kindergarten in-person; then an in-person second grade; then go to my office to make my second and third grade class online; then go back to fourth grade in-person. So it was (very hectic)," Parker said. "And the children wanted to be children. Not being able to be in community and share and do small groups felt really not like school."
Cardona came to Charlotte to kick off National Summer Learning Week. He has similar events planned for Oregon, California and New Jersey, this week.
"Part of the Building Back Better agenda is really making sure that we're not only returning after the pandemic, but we're doing it better, we're building stronger," Cardona told the group at JCSU.
While Cardona was in Charlotte, Mrs. Parker, who is also vice-president of the Durham Association of Educators and director of the National Education Association, also pressed him to fight for $15/hour wages for school support staff, like custodial staff and bus drivers. It's an issue DAE fought for in Durham. The group wants the White House to push the issue on a national level.