Hiller Spires, Ph.D., executive director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and associate dean in the NC State College of Education, will retire June 1, 2022, after 43 years in education and 20 years at the Friday Institute. In this Q&A, Spires talks about the history of the Friday Institute and her experience leading the organization, and reflects on what she’s learned over the last 20 years.
You were founding director of the Friday Institute. How did the Friday Institute come to be, and why did you want to be involved in its establishment? Governor Jim Hunt ’59 ’62 had a vision for an innovative middle school that would be connected to a research center. Centennial Campus Middle School opened in 2000, and the College of Education was to raise the funds and create a research center connected to it. Ann and Jim Goodnight provided initial funds and chose to name it after Bill and Ida Friday. The dean at the time asked me if I would help create the institute. I worked with faculty and staff, along with external partners, to create the vision and mission for the institute.
You served as founding director from 2002 until 2006 and then returned for a second term as executive director from 2019 through today. What did you hope to accomplish in your second term as executive director? In my second term as executive director, we spent a lot of time cultivating equity in education through equity-mindedness. We set about focusing internally on our organization and how we could become more equity-minded so we would have a solid foundation to work on equity with our partners. We had conducted an equity audit with an external company. One outgrowth of the audit was for us to engage in time focusing on equity, inclusion, diversity and belonging. We’re in the middle of those workshops now and learning so much about how to be more equity-minded individually and collectively.
What makes the Friday Institute special to you? The Friday Institute is a magical place. It is also a learning and caring organization—we care about educators and children, we care about our educational impact and we care about each other. I like that the staff at the Friday Institute works at the intersection of research, policy and practice. I believe that’s how we can make the most impact in education. I also like that we are physically connected to a middle school. Each day I drive into the parking lot, I’m reminded of my purpose—to support students to thrive and be all they can be.
What lessons from Dr. Friday have stayed with you? When we were creating the Friday Institute, Mr. Friday used to remind us that change is the only constant. Be prepared for change. He also used to remind us to ask the teachers what they need and how we can support them. We do that. We continuously center teacher voices.
What do you hope others learned from your leadership? I grew up in a small town called Hartsville, South Carolina, population 7,500. I was a first-generation college student in my family. There were key people who supported me all along the way throughout my journey. I hope others have been able to see how I have supported them to be all they can be.