Jen Mangrum is a native North Carolinian and a lifelong educator. Both of Jen’s parents were public elementary school teachers. They raised three children in Jacksonville, NC. Jen was the youngest, and she was a strong student who loved helping her parents in their classrooms.
Jen's father, Tom, was a proud Marine who fought in three wars (WWII, Vietnam twice, and Korea). Male teachers like Tom could work in almost any school they wanted, but Tom chose to teach in a school where most of the students were black and disadvantaged. Tom did so because he loved his country, and he believed in the power of public service. Jen's mother Sheila was a British artist who met Tom while he was overseas. She moved to America to be with him and taught kindergarten. Although Sheila's boss didn't want her to wear anything but dresses to work, Sheila wore pantsuits so she could get down on the ground and read with her students. Sheila once went to court for a child named Buddy, who was told he could not attend public kindergarten because of his cerebral palsy. But because of Sheila's advocacy in court, Buddy was able to attend public school. He went on to become a pediatrician. Jen’s parents instilled in her a love of teaching and a love of community.
Very sadly, when Jen was just fourteen, her mother suffered a heart attack before work and died in young Jen's arms. After Tom left with Sheila in the ambulance, Jen walked to school. She believed that somehow, her teachers would make everything "okay." To this day, public school is Jen's home-away-from-home. Jen believes she is in debt to teachers - because, in fact, we all are. That's why Jen has devoted her life to making schools safer, better places for all kinds of children to learn and flourish. Day in and day out, Jen works to train, support, and motivate superhero teachers just like her mother, her father, and Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Travis, who comforted Jen on the most difficult day of her life.
In 1987, Jen graduated from UNC-Wilmington (her father's alma mater) with a degree in elementary education. During her first two years as a teacher, Jen taught second grade at a diverse school near a military base and attended graduate school at East Carolina University. She received her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and moved to Guilford County, where she was surprised to find a teacher surplus. Even with a Masters degree, Jen had a hard time finding employment. After interviewing for a Teacher Assistant/Bus Driver position, Jen was fortunate enough to be recommended for a full-on teaching job in a rural community outside of Greensboro.
For the next twelve years Jen taught second and third grade. Recognized as a leader among her colleagues, Jen became a literacy facilitator. In that position, Jen modeled and coached effective literacy instruction with her peers. During this time she also began consulting with the National Paideia Center, which advocates that all learners practice the critical thinking, communication skills, and attitudes necessary to earn a living, be an active citizen, and pursue a meaningful life.
In 2001, Jen knew her experiences as a teacher leader and coach were pointing her back to graduate school. Jen attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and wrote her dissertation about creating professional learning communities using Paideia Seminars. Jen received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, and in the winter of 2004, just after graduation, she was hired by North Carolina State University to create its Elementary Education Program and Department. Within 18 months, the first cohort of Elementary Ed students began attending classes at State. Jen was the first faculty member in the department, and she led the program in its first two years.
In 2008, Jen took a position at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro so she could be closer to home while her two daughters completed their K-12 experience in Guilford County Public Schools. (Both Jen's daughters went on to study at North Carolina State University. Jen's eldest daughter recently received an MFA from UNC School of the Arts.) At UNC-Greensboro, Jen co-founded the UNCG STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative. STEM TLC supports, promotes and encourages teacher leadership in STEM in elementary classrooms, especially elementary classrooms affected by poverty.
Jen’s community efforts are focused on advocacy for teachers, students, and families. In the past, Jen has enjoyed volunteering for ARC (an organization that advocates on behalf of those with developmental and intellectual disabilities) and Hooked on Books (an organization funded by the Teague Foundation that provides home libraries for elementary students in high-poverty schools). Jen serves on the Board of Directors for the National Paideia Center, which allows her to travel the country to work with teachers who want to learn new ways to approach teaching and learning. Every year, Jen travels to Finland with a group of UNCG students to study the world-famous Finnish public education system.
In 2018, Jen campaigned for NC Senate. One of her biggest motivations was making public education a priority in the General Assembly. During the campaign, Jen met extraordinary educators and community advocates from all over the state. Jen became a part of the collective voice for Save Our Schools and the Red for Ed movement. One of the highlights of Jen’s journey was marching in Raleigh alongside other educators in May of 2018 and 2019. Together with 20,000 of her closest friends, Jen sent a message to Phil Berger, Mark Johnson and the rest of the NC GOP: public schools are being undervalued and underserved in our great state.
Jen continues to work with our Governor, many members of the General Assembly, local-level politicians and activists, and the diverse public education community to push North Carolina forward, towards a brighter future in which our state is widely known for its excellent treatment of children, educators, experts, and the pursuit of knowledge.