Tom Bradshaw to receive Vernon Malone Friend of Education Award, Six New Inductees Join Wake County Public Schools Hall of Fame  

RALEIGH, N.C. — WakeEd Partnership (WakeEd), a business-backed nonprofit organization committed to supporting teachers and students in Wake County Public Schools, today announced this year’s honorees for its 10th annual Stars of Education Gala, presented this year by Martin Marietta. The event will be held on Thursday, October 12, 2023, at the Raleigh Convention Center. This is WakeEd’s 10th annual Stars of Education event and a celebration of WakeEd’s 40th anniversary. 


WakeEd Partnership is honoring Thomas W. Bradshaw, Jr. with this year’s Vernon Malone Friend of Education Award. Bradshaw is being honored for decades of leadership and public service for the children of Wake County. Since 1990, this award has been presented to an individual who has made significant contributions to our community and shares the qualities of the late Senator Vernon Malone, who advocated tirelessly for every child to have equitable opportunities. 



Bradshaw, a Broughton High School graduate, began his career on the advertising staff at the News & Observer, Vice President of North Hills, Inc., and President of North Hills Realty. In 1969, Bradshaw entered politics as a Raleigh City Councilor and, in 1971, became the youngest Mayor in Raleigh’s history at age 32. He drove major improvements to city infrastructure and services, leading campaigns for almost $60 million in bond issues. 

In 1977, Bradshaw was appointed Secretary of the NC Department of Transportation by Governor Jim Hunt. Bradshaw’s work in the transportation arena led to a long distinguished financial career traveling between Raleigh and Wall Street as Managing Director and Co-Head of the Transportation Group for Citigroup Global Markets.  

Tom Bradshaw has led and served on multiple nonprofit boards including Chair of the Raleigh Chamber and NC Citizens for Business and Industry (now NC Chamber), Vice Chairman of the North Carolina Global TransPark Authority, President of the Triangle United Way, and is a very active member of the Raleigh Kiwanis Club.  

He has been a key player in every successful Wake County Public School System bond campaign over the past 50 years. He is deeply committed to the Public School Forum of North Carolina where he has served for more than 30 years, including as Chair, in support of our state’s public schools. Most recently, Tom served as a leader for the transformative Southeast Raleigh Promise effort that included opening a new state-of-the-art school and world-class YMCA facility in Southeast Raleigh. 

At the Stars of Education Gala, six remarkable individuals will join the Wake County Public School System Hall of Fame. Since 2013, the WCPSS Hall of Fame has recognized individuals who have made an impact locally in the categories of Arts, Athletics, Business, Community Service, Education, and Entrepreneurship. The Class of 2023 includes: 

Arts | Freddie-Lee Heath, WCPSS Arts Director (Retired) 

A veteran dance educator for more than three decades, Freddie-Lee Heath most recently served as Director of Arts Education for Wake County Public School System until his retirement earlier this year. In his most recent position, Freddie-Lee worked with more than 500 art instructors of all disciplines in more than 160 schools across Wake County.  

From 1992 to 2015, Mr. Heath worked as a dance teacher across seven schools. He kept dance current and relevant to the needs of his students, while developing a new curriculum for Wake County Public School System, including Swing Dance, Dance in the Media, Video Dance, and Twist and Tone. He has received numerous awards including National Dance Educator of the Year, Order of the Long Leaf Pine, and the prestigious Medal of Arts award from the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, the City’s highest arts honor. 

Athletics | Paul Dinkenor, Leesville Road High School Soccer Coach & Teacher (Retired) 

A native of Manchester, England, Paul Dinkenor has taught and coached soccer in North Carolina since 1987. A member of the NC Soccer Hall of Fame, Dinkenor led Leesville Road High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams to several championships, earning titles in Class 4A boys in 1997 and 1999, and in 4A girls in 2008, 2009 and 2011.  

Paul’s coaching has not gone unnoticed by his peers. He has been named State Coach of the Year twice, Regional Coach of the Year 14 times and Conference Coach of the Year 21 times. He was also named the 2020 Raleigh Sports Club Coach of the Year. This year, he retired from Leesville Road High School, where he has served since the school opened in 1993. Off the pitch Dinkenor is a beloved social studies teacher and is the architect of the school’s “World Religions and the Bible in History” course. 

Business | John Palmour, Chief Technology Officer Wolfspeed (Cree Co-Founder) (Deceased) 

A graduate of Broughton High School, John Palmour continued his education, earning his Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from NC State in 1982 and 1988, respectively. Palmour and several fellow NC State graduates co-founded what became Cree, Inc., a successful Durham-based LED lighting company. Cree, now Wolfspeed, focuses on the design and manufacturing of silicon carbide and GaN materials, power-switching and RF devices.   

Palmour served as Chief Technology Officer of Wolfspeed until his passing in November of 2022. Wolfspeed’s large manufacturing facility is under construction in Chatham County and will be named after him as the John Palmour Manufacturing Center for Silicon Carbide. The facility will be the world’s largest producer of silicon carbide. Palmour’s career included 142 patents and 386 scientific publications. Throughout his life, Palmour believed in giving back to students in Wake County, and at his beloved NC State.  

Community Service | Kassandra Love Watson, UCB Biosciences, Inc.  

Kassandra Love Watson has been with UCB Biosciences for over 18 years, currently serving as US Contracts Coordinator for Strategic Clinical Partnering. Watson holds leadership positions with UCB’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), BEING, Women in Leadership and United for Veterans; and is an ally member of all other ERGs.  

The daughter of two educators and a strong advocate for education, Watson became an active PTA member in 1998, the year her daughter began school.  She served in numerous leadership roles on several PTAs/PTSAs boards including President of Heritage High School PTSA. During her tenure as Heritage PTSA president, she received a Volunteer of the Year award from Wake County PTA Council. She held multiple leadership roles in the Wake PTA Council including treasurer, secretary, and president. During her time as Wake County PTA Council president, Kassandra took advantage of her affiliation with WakeEd. She introduced the SummerSTEM program to the UCB RTP leadership team and they have been a host company ever since. 

She holds an MBA from Purdue University, and a Bachelor’s in Communications from N.C. State University and is a proud product of Cleveland County Public Schools (Shelby, NC). Her strong advocacy for education is driven by her unquenchable passion for helping each student maximize their potential.  

Education | Leon Herndon, Wake County Public Schools Administrator and Trailblazer (Deceased) 

Born in Apex, Leon Herndon attended segregated schools in Chatham County and later Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1960. He subsequently attended North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), earning his Master’s in Education in 1962. He started his educational career as a high school science teacher in Robeson County. He returned to the Triangle to teach science at Ligon High School and later at Enloe High School.  

In 1972, he made history at Enloe by becoming the first Black Principal of a predominately White school in the county’s history. In 1983, Herndon made history again by becoming the first Black principal of Apex High School. He later served as principal of Carroll Middle School in Raleigh until his retirement in 2001. Following his retirement, Herndon focused on early childhood education, joining his wife, Shirley, in founding Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Cary. In March 2023, Herndon passed away. He leaves a legacy that has impacted many lives in North Carolina.  


Entrepreneurship | Johnny Hackett, Jr., Founder, The Black Dollar Corp. 

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Johnny Hackett’s family moved to Raleigh in 1998, where he graduated from Broughton High School and later attended North Carolina A&T State University. Johnny began his career as a Six Sigma Black Belt at Fortune 500 Companies such as Xerox, IBM, BlueCross BlueShield of NC, and B-Corp Unity Web Agency before walking away from his corporate job in 2011 to pursue entrepreneurship.    

In 2019, he established The Black Dollar Corp. His business is now the parent company of #BlackDollarNC, an online directory for Black-owned businesses across North Carolina. It also includes Black Friday Market, a retail hub for online businesses; and The Factory, a co-manufacturing facility. Hackett is an active member of the Raleigh community. He is on the Board of Directors at A Place at the Table and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and serves on Dogwood State Bank’s advisory board. Hackett was named Triangle Business Journal’s 2021 40 Under 40 Award Recipient and Triangle Tribune’s 2021 Newsmakers of the Year. 


Individual tickets for the event are $150 and can be purchased here. Sponsorship opportunities are also available now. Visit WakeEd’s website for more information: or download the PDF here. 


About WakeEd Partnership   

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023, WakeEd Partnership (WakeEd) is a leading independent nonprofit backed by business and community leaders to support the teachers, students, and families of Wake County Public Schools. Since 1983, WakeEd has been committed to improving public education and advocating for excellent educational opportunities for all students. For more information, please visit 

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