Initiated in 1965, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is one of the highest state awards a person can receive in North Carolina. Local resident and esteemed educator Michael J. Pratt has received this honor and joined the 2012 roster of other distinguished individuals, who have been recognized for their exemplary service and exceptional contributions to the state and its residents.
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented by the governor to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. Contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers, and many years of service to their organizations are some of the guidelines by which recipients are selected for this award. The list of recipients includes Dan Blue, Andy Griffith, Billy Graham, Michael Jordan, Charles Kuralt, Doug Marlette, Art Pope, Edith Warren and many more.
According to Edwin M. Speas of Poyner & Spruill, who submitted Pratt’s credentials to Gov. Bev Perdue for consideration, the nomination was based on his “great service to North Carolina children at Rocky Mount Preparatory School.”
Perdue announced the 2012 awards prior to leaving office at the end of the year.
Originally from Virginia, Michael Pratt has lived in North Carolina for a long time. He graduated from N.C. Wesleyan College in 1966 with the Bachelor’s degree in history. As an undergraduate, he earned 10 athletic letters and was the first recipient of the college’s Outstanding Athlete award. In addition, he was recognized as an outstanding athlete for two consecutive years by the Civitan Club.
In 1972, Pratt earned his master’s degree in education from Old Dominion University and began his 45-year career in education as a teacher and coach. He progressed into administration and served as headmaster at four schools before taking the helm at Rocky Mount Preparatory School in 2005.
Upon his arrival at Rocky Mount Prep, which is a public charter school, Pratt recalled reflecting upon the educational standards and quality he had seen in private independent schools for which parents had been willing to pay tuition. He said, “When I came to Prep, I asked myself, ‘Don’t our students deserve the same educational advantages, even if they cannot afford to pay for it?’ The answer was an unequivocal, ‘Yes.’”
During the seven years of his leadership at Rocky Mount Prep, the K-12 charter school’s enrollment increased from 775 to 1,100. The school attained SACS accreditation, academic opportunities were expanded, and student achievement improved. In 2011, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction awarded the title of School of Distinction and the Washington Post recognized Rocky Mount Prep as one of the best high schools in the nation.
“When addressing an important issue, we always asked ourselves, ‘What is in the best interest of the children?’ and then, we did everything we could to answer that question,” Pratt said.
“I am sure that everyone who came through the doors contributed in some way to our successes. I enjoyed my tenure at Rocky Mount Prep and am proud of all we accomplished.”
The first period class with all of the high school seniors was his favorite part of the school day at Rocky Mount Prep. He taught a history course that included a wide range of topics from philosophical inquiry, the U.S. Constitution, and comparative economics, to units on slavery and the Holocaust.
“I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each student personally,” Pratt said.
Actively involved at N.C. Wesleyan since his graduation, Pratt has served as a member of the Board of Trustees, the Strategic Planning Committee, Days for Wesleyan Committee, and president of the Alumni Association. He resigned from the board to join the staff in July 2012.
“Returning to my alma mater is very important to me,” he said.
As Vice President of College Advancement and Strategy, Pratt is responsible for alumni relations, communications, fundraising, and ongoing strategic planning at N.C. Wesleyan. The Office of College Advancement is responsible for generating financial support for the private college that currently serves approximately 1,500 traditional and adult students.
“The entire Wesleyan College community is proud of Michael’s getting this honor, but more importantly we are grateful for his service to young people at Rocky Mount Prep,” said N.C. Wesleyan President James A. Gray. “We have been very impressed with his accomplishments at Rocky Mount Prep and are gratified by the love, volunteer time, and donations that he and his wife, Barbara have given to Wesleyan for many years. He truly deserves to be honored with the Long Leaf Pine Award.”
Michael Pratt and his wife, Barbara Denning Pratt, live in Rocky Mount. They have two adult children, Shay Pratt and Michelle Pratt Huff. He treasures time with his grandchildren and in his spare moments enjoys reading, writing, tennis, running, coaching and occasionally, a little bit of golf.