Stuart Alan Albright Jr. ’01
It takes a certain confidence, at age 18, to load some camping gear and your kid brother into your aging car and drive from North Carolina to Alaska by way of the Trans-Canada Highway — a route takes you over 5,000 miles of gravel road. And neither of you know how to change a flat.
And when one of the tires inevitably goes, about 70 miles from the nearest town on a road that sees maybe three cars an hour, you know the universe is smiling on you when the driver of one of those cars has a tow truck about 15 miles away and tows you to a garage that miraculously has a new tire that fits.
No wonder Stuart Albright ’01 teaches his students, with confidence, to pursue life’s adventures and not let challenges get in the way. And in so doing, he has changed lives others have given up on.
At Jordan High in Durham, whose student body is an even mix of haves and have-nots, Stuart likes to say he coaches English and creative writing and teaches football. On the field and in the classroom, he has an uncanny ability to empower others to see the strengths they have in themselves and the potential they have to contribute positively to the world. In 2006, he was named the Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year. The following year, he received a Milken Educator Award, a national honor considered the Oscar of education. It came with a $25,000 check, which he used to start a company that publishes the work of his creative writing students. The press has published 20 novels by his students and three books of his own. He already has begun a fourth.
At UNC, Stuart was a North Carolina Fellow, a competitive program akin to the Morehead-Cain Scholarships, but without the money. He claims he’s not one of those students his classmates will remember, but John Brodeur, director of the fellows program then and now, said, “Stu had an impact greater than what might have been predicted by his understated personality.” Indeed, “humility” is the first trait that comes to mind by everyone asked to describe him.
Yet LaDwaun Harrison, head coach at Jordan, where Stuart has been an assistant coach since he started teaching more than a decade ago, has seen his intense, competitive, driven side. “A lot of people talk about ‘every child can learn,’ ” Harrison said. “He really believes it.”
Stuart earns students’ trust and champions their success. At a football game, he got so excited about a great play that he ran out onto the field, cheering, and collided with a ref. Stuart took a tumble and popped back up, still cheering. Since then, what the coaching staff has dubbed “the Stuart Roll” has become synonymous with resilience.
Stuart is quick to credit his success to others who have invested in him — his parents, Alan ’70 and Nancy Albright; his creative writing teacher at UNC, Bland Simpson ’70; and his high school football coach, Bill Eccles, who allowed the teenager who then weighed maybe 130 pounds soaking wet to join the team and, in the summer between his UNC graduation and going off to Harvard for his master’s in education, gave him a taste of what it was like to coach.
Stuart grew up on a farmstead in rural Gastonia, where he and his brother Robert ’03 had to be friends because often there was no one else close by to play with. From a young age, he was “brainwashed” into bleeding Carolina blue by trips to campus with his dad and brother for football games, just as he now totes his two sons, still a toddler and baby, to campus with his wife, Jenni Summerville Albright ’05 (MPH).
As an undergraduate, he felt right at home with UNC’s emphasis on giving back. He understood early on that leadership is about service, and service is about an exchange. One pivotal summer, he worked as a community counselor with kids in an impoverished area of Camden, N.J. He challenged himself to see beyond the stereotypes, and he returned home determined to pursue a career in urban education.
Stuart would like to remain in the classroom for the duration of his career, but recent cuts in teachers’ pay have him thinking it may not be feasible. And legislative action he sees as harmful to North Carolina’s next generation has prompted him to consider a more prominent role in education advocacy, perhaps even in politics.
“He’s not in it for the personal glory,” LaDwaun Harrison said. “He just wants to do what he does and let it be.”
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