SOE News

Björn Hennings new director of Carolina Center for Educational Excellence

Björn Hennings has been appointed director of the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence, effective Oct.1, 2006. In this role, he will contribute to the work of the Chancellor’s Task Force for Engagement and its call for greater collaboration, both between our campus and the public schools, and between our School of Education and other academic units at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Hennings, who recently moved to Chapel Hill, has worked in public education in Germany for more than 30 years. He brings a wealth of experience as a middle and high school classroom teacher, a teacher of high school dropouts, an adult educator and teacher trainer, as well as a co-founder of a private elementary school and a state wide Montessori association.

Hennings taught mathematics, politics, social studies and history for 15 years in Germany in grades 5-13. Subsequently he served as an instructor of teachers and university faculty for a decade, conducting seminars on the basic principles of supervision and consulting in secondary schools and on communications skills. At the same time, he planned and supervised school development processes in several schools in the state of Brandenburg.

As his own children approached elementary age, Hennings co-founded a private elementary school in Potsdam in 1995, using a model that incorporated many ideas of Maria Montessori. While following a structured schedule, children at the school were encouraged to express their curiosity, be active, learn at their own pace and follow their own interests. Having learned about the benefits of the Montessori approach, he co-founded the Montessori Federation of Berlin-Brandenburg and was elected its chairman.

Before moving to North Carolina, Hennings also worked with high school dropouts in a Productive Learning Project in Berlin, providing basic academic training and vocational practica for these students tailored to their interests and abilities. More than half of the students successfully completed their high school degree through this project and obtained productive work. “It was a very good experience to work with these disadvantaged students and sometimes get them to love learning for the first time in their lives,” Hennings said.

Since arriving in Chapel Hill in 2005, Hennings has served on the assessment committee of the High Five Regional Partnership for High School Excellence. Through this partnership, which involves Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake school districts, five companies have donated $2.5 million to improve high schools in the area. One outcome has been the development of Professional Learning Communities through which high school teachers who teach the same subject area at the same grade level collaborate closely together, rather than functioning in an isolated fashion.

He also has served on the steering committee of the School of Education’s Research Triangle Schools Partnership and has participated in the school’s initiative to deepen collaboration with departments in the College of Arts & Sciences with the goal of expanding the number of science and mathematics teachers prepared for North Carolina’s public schools.

As director of the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence, Hennings will continue to generate and implement ideas about ways to improve schools and student learning. “My goal is to help improve school pedagogy and student instruction in the public schools by connecting university researchers more directly with what is going on in the schools,” he stated.

Other areas of focus will include working to expand the pipeline of mathematics and science teachers for North Carolina and supporting teachers to remain in the profession.

“The center offers incredible opportunities, especially with its technology,” Hennings said. “I would like to have the technology really used, for example, in supporting partnerships between our schools and other schools around the world so that the kids can see and talk to each other. I want to make the facility a vibrant, lively place.”