The Academy: Beginnings

Through the North Carolina Academy to Envision Tomorrow’s Schools, many of the state’s best teachers teamed up with architects and designers to imagine how K-12 facilities might deliver more student-centered and community-engaged learning.

We’ve all heard the stories: Back in someone’s day, they walked a certain number of miles to and from school—often to a small, one-room facility in the middle of nowhere. As parents went to work for 10-, 12- or even 16-hour days, children were instructed and watched over by the town teachers—cut off from the rest of society.

Today’s processes may be vastly different, but the fact remains: Teachers teach, and students learn mostly in a vacuum. As a result, “There’s a level of professionalism that sometimes we miss out on,” says Walter M. Williams High School’s Freebird McKinney, 2018 North Carolina Teacher of the Year in the Alamance-Burlington School System—including their spot at the table as officials hammer out budgets and specifications for school designs.

Moseley Architects is upending that paradigm throughout the Mid-Atlantic, by bringing together leading educators with architects and other design professionals for collaborative, “idea mining” sessions. Referred to as The Academy to Envision Tomorrow’s Schools, the two-day format steeps teachers in a creative thought process that urges them to “go big” with their ideas in order to arrive at the ideal classrooms and learning environments.

With the help of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association and two area co-sponsors, Moseley Architects’ latest Academy landed in the Tar Heel state, where it gathered the participation of its best teachers.

“We need to let teachers decide what they need, and then design buildings accordingly, instead of designing buildings and forcing teachers to adapt to what’s there.”

Jack Hoke, Executive Director for the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association

The formula architects drew from teachers in North Carolina calls for collaborative, student-driven learning environments that provide maximum classroom flexibility. School concepts should also go against the norm for isolation, instead welcoming the community in and supporting the parents so they are better equipped to support their children. In the end, the event’s takeaways support the notion that—when it comes to providing the best possible education—it takes a village.

“We start each project as a larger group discussing the big ideas. We’ll then break-out into smaller groups, share ideas back to the other groups, and then rinse and repeat. Along the way, we’ll all be stealing each other’s great ideas and enhancing our group’s concepts. By the time we’re done, we don’t know whose idea it was, so it’s truly consensus-driven.”

Bill Laughlin, K-12 Managing Principal with Moseley Architects


With a reputation for approaching every project from completely new perspectives in K-12 and higher education, Moseley Architects’ philosophy calls for viewing architects as members of the educational community. And the company has leadership to back its concept.

Stewart Roberson, the firm’s chairman, president and CEO holds a doctorate degree in education, and prior to joining Moseley Architects spent 35 years of his career as an educator—including 21 years as a superintendent. Noting that many of the firm’s assignments place it in the room with high-level officials, like planners and administrators—but often not the actual educators (teachers)—Roberson’s drive for public service led to the Academy’s concept.

“You just don’t get the people who are there every day, utilizing the schools themselves, who undoubtedly have bright ideas for how to make them better, but nobody’s asked.”

Ashley Dennis, K-12 Managing Principal with Moseley Architects

The Start of Something Special

With offices in Charlotte and Raleigh, it comes as no surprise that following the company’s success in Virginia, Roberson’s next focus was on North Carolina, where he reached out to Jack Hoke, executive director for the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association. Hoke was immediately receptive.

“I took this to my board, and said, ‘This is an opportunity for us to involve our teachers.’ We can gather our state and our regional teachers of the year for the last two years and get their actual input.”

Jack Hoke, Executive Director for the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association

With a rash of new schools in the state’s plans and budget, North Carolina was ripe for the opportunity, Hoke felt. Following a unanimous approval by his board, it was set: North Carolina would host Moseley Architects’ second Academy.

Regional Recipes

The North Carolina Academy to Envision Tomorrow’s Schools built upon the format and success established by Moseley Architects in Virginia, while blending in additional experts from the fields of educational furnishings and technology. Newly added co-sponsors included Custom Educational Furnishings (CEF), in Taylorsville, N.C., and PowerUpEDU, a Georgia-based educational solutions provider.

For participating design professionals, the question was, “How do you bottle up the passion and ideas of top-flight educators and instill that energy into others via the designed environment?” suggests Bill Laughlin.

Participating teachers (which Moseley Architects refers to as Fellows) and architects involved in the North Carolina Academy say it was clear that representatives from CEF and PowerUpEDU were there to do more than just co-sponsor the event, raising awareness for their companies, but were hard at work, sketching up ideas and collaborating throughout the event.

“You could see it in his eyes—the wheels were spinning,” Laughlin says of Scott McHugh, owner and president of CEF. At the end of the event, Laughlin says, when he removed a roll of paper that the furniture design group had used to sketch out its rough ideas and started to place it in a trashcan, McHugh stepped in. “There was probably 20 feet of this stuff, with ideas all over it,” he explains. “I took pictures of it to document, and then balled it up to throw it away, when [Scott McHugh] said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! I want to take this back to the shop and pin it up for the fabricators back at the shop.’”