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Appreciation: Charlotte educator and activist Bettye McLaurin
Longtime CMS administrator dies at age 90
Published Monday, July 27, 2020 1:26 pm
by Vic Bolton and Edith Morrow Lee

Longtime Charlotte-Mecklenburg educator and child advocate Betty McLaurin died June 27 at age 90.

Motivated by her passion for early childhood education, Bettye Sue McConnaughey McLaurin set out to improve early learning initiatives for North Carolina’s children. A statuesque, warm and outgoing leader who never lost focus on that goal, Mrs. McLaurin was a powerful voice for the least of these – in North Carolina and across the nation – right up until her passing at age of 90 on June 27.

A native of Kannapolis, Mrs. McLaurin was a 1945 graduate of George Washington Carver High School. She periodically reflected on educators of her childhood who created a lasting impression and how her parents boarded teachers in their home, experiences that sealed her decision to become an educator. In 2018, she was inducted into the Kannapolis African America Museum and Cultural Center Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement.

Mrs.  McLaurin, a Bennett College alumnus who celebrated her 70th college reunion last year, enrolled at the Greensboro school at age 15 and graduated with a degree in elementary education at 18. Upon graduation, she returned to her hometown to teach fourth graders.

“It was a joy to stand where so many great educators stood before me,” she said. “I wanted to uphold the legacy they provided.”

That assignment launched a career in education and administration that spanned 43 years. She spent five years at Carver (1949-54) and a year in Lumberton, N.C. She joined Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 1955 and served for 37 years. In 1961, Mrs. McLaurin earned her principal’s certificate and appointed to Morgan Elementary School in the Cherry community. She was principal of Seversville Elementary, Seversville Child Development Center, Plaza Road Elementary, Piedmont Open Optional Middle and Sedgefield Elementary.

She established a well-earned reputation for excellence, no-nonsense leadership, and a deep-seated passion for the wellbeing of the students.   
Mrs. McLaurin continued her studies at Appalachian State University and Howard University. She earned a master’s degree in administration and supervision from New York University in 1958.

From 1961 to 1968, Mrs. McLaurin co-hosted “The Hour of Opportunity” Sunday mornings on WSOC-TV, which provided opportunities for minorities to share their community organizations, talents and expertise with viewers.

An innovative educator, Mrs. McLaurin was known for her creative approach, which prompted many consulting opportunities throughout her career and beyond.  She worked with then-Johnson C. Smith University President Lionel Newsome and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jack S. Brayboy to establish the Little Smith House in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a “student teaching model” for early childhood education majors.  Mrs. McLaurin was instrumental in the development of open education in CMS, traveling the Southeast to visit open classroom (facility design) and open education (self-paced curriculum design) schools, gleaning best practices to implement in the district.  

As a student at Piedmont Open Middle School, Sonja Gantt Gibson, a retired news anchor and current executive director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Public Schools Foundation, recalled an encounter with Mrs. McLaurin.

“I will never forget lobbying to her for us to have cheerleaders at Piedmont,” Gibson said. “She really made us work for it in a very beautiful way…I learned lobbying skills, negotiating skills and project management skills from the process while in middle school.”

Mrs. McLaurin was an active member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte for over 50 years. She served on its Board of Trustees for 12 years and chaired its child development center (now the Marizetta Kerry Child Development Center) from its inception in 1970 until her retirement after 18 years. Her desire to provide quality early childhood education was not limited to public education, as she also assisted community and faith-based preschools and day care centers with establishing services to impact the lives of young children.  She also assisted numerous community-based childcare facilities with licensing, professional standards, and systems of care.  

“For over 50 years the legacy established by Pastor Coleman Kerry and Sister Bettye is still alive and effective,” said the Rev. Clifford Jones, Friendship’s senior pastor. “She worked, she served, she loved the Lord and she wanted to see teachers and students excel. What she has done for this church family will be alive in the hearts of many forever.”

Prior to retiring from CMS in 1992, McLaurin was also very engaged in civic, cultural, faith-based and fraternal endeavors. She served on several boards of directors, including the Mint Museum, Bethlehem Center and the Arts and Science Council. She was an officer of the National Pan Hellenic Council and was elected to three terms as national president of Charms Inc., a national social, civic and cultural organization.  

Lynada Coleburn Bryant, national president of Charms Inc., remembered Mrs. McLaurin fondly.

“I have known Charm Bettye McLaurin since I was a student at North Carolina Central University in the ‘70s,” she said. “I always looked up to her and admired her. She was a woman of strong character, with a kind and nurturing nature. Our organization grew during her six-year tenure as national president. She always had a great smile, a warm hug and words of wisdom for you.”  

Having lived and worked on the front lines of Jim Crow, desegregation and integration, McLaurin was very involved in promoting education equality, eliminating disparities and reducing the inequities in early learning initiatives. Most recently, she worked closely with community-based organizations serving metro Atlanta residents. Since 2002, McLaurin assisted her daughter, Danette McLaurin Glass, with developing and managing a youth and family enrichment agency that served thousands of youth and families annually. The agency provides technical assistance for public health, juvenile justice and public safety initiatives for families in Georgia and the Carolinas.

In 2017, Mrs. McLaurin was the driving force behind the establishment of the Center for Family and Community Wellness Inc. (The Well), a national research, advocacy and training organization focused on eliminating education, health and economic disparities. McLaurin traveled the nation speaking to elected officials, meeting with business leaders and advocating for the dedication of resources to real community issues, such as the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, saw the impact of McLaurin’s work firsthand.

“McLaurin and her daughter Danette were modern day Freedom Riders, traveling all over to meetings that would bring about better healthcare, justice reform or opportunities for others,” said Carey Sipp, Southeast regional director for ACEs Connection. “I got to witness three generations of this family working together on the same objective – freedom, health and justice for all.”

One of Mrs. McLaurin’s greatest inspirations was providing over 500 kindergarten students the opportunity to ride a train, airplane, motor coach or boat during their early learning years. She loved providing positive enriching exposures to students and faculty.  She also saw as her greatest blessing the opportunity to work beside dedicated and compassionate professionals who unselfishly served children and educators.  She also loved hearing former students and colleagues share about their lives, careers and families.

“She gave me my first experience in teaching, and literally taught me how to teach,” said Swayzene Harris, the retired director of personnel of the Alexandria City Schools in Virginia. “She insisted that I develop outstanding skills, skills that powered my career development both as a teacher and a supervisor. She was such a strong mentor and I am grateful for remaining in touch all these years.”

Robert Cannon, a longtime educator and retired director of elementary employment at CMS, was a student in McLaurin’s fourth grade class almost 70 years ago. He remembered her as a kind and devoted teacher who cared for her kids and set high expectations.

“Her mantra was always ‘The Children Come First,’ and that philosophy informed her decision-making throughout her career,” he said. “She challenged me by making me a summer school administrator early in my career, an experience that showed me what I was made of and that I was capable of leadership. As a result – and with a nudge from McLaurin – I went back to school, pursued advanced degrees and became an administrator. I will always be grateful to her for taking me under her wing.”

For her part, Mrs. McLaurin saw the coaching, nurturing and mentoring of education professionals as a part of her calling.

“I am thankful for education and the ability to offer opportunities for others,” she said. “I am grateful for those who nurtured me and for the opportunity to nurture others.”

The only daughter of the late John Baxter McConnaughey and Myrtle Lee McCombs McConnaughey, Mrs. McLaurin was a member of Marable Memorial AME Zion Church as a child. In 1953, she married her college sweetheart, Daniel McLaurin Jr., who transitioned in 2010. She is survived by Danette McLaurin Glass, an accomplished community advocate in her own right; her “son-in-love,” Joel; grandchildren Christopher Glass, Nicholas Glass, Ashleigh Glass and Dr. Renee McLaurin Starr; great grandchildren Cameron Glass, Jaton and Aneya Barrino; and godchildren Gloria Miller, Dr. Karen Woods. Dr. Gwendolyn Felder Brown and Bettye Curbeam Green. She was be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery beside her husband.

The Bettye M. McLaurin Memorial Scholarship for Professional Development has been established at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in her honor. Donations may be sent to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte, NC 28216.  Please reference the Bettye M. McLaurin Memorial Scholarship Fund.


I really hate to hear the passing of Mrs. McLaurin, she was my principal at Plaza Rd, for six years. I got called to her office one time in the 5th grade, 2 licks with that wooden paddle she gave me was enough to scare me straight . I have always wondered were she was. God thank you for a lovely soul and a sharp dresser
Posted on February 22, 2021
Beautiful Lady! I met Her when I join FMBC in the last 1979. At that time older Member would Help new Members, She was assign to Me. Not a birthday or illness I would get a card. Some it was just a Thinking of you! all these years later I can still remember getting a Card from Sister Mary. RIP My Friend.
Posted on July 30, 2020
Mrs Bettye was dynamic and wonderful even still at 90. She had a good heart that showed in her smile and laughter. What a wonderful opportunity to know this warrior for children! This advocate. This mentor. This leader. This friend.
Posted on July 30, 2020
I saw a billboard on 85, remembering her life. I wanted to know who she was and found this awesome article. Thank you for your service Mrs. McLaurin.
Posted on July 29, 2020

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