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Nancy Zeman at Public School Foundation Named Hometown Hero

Nancy Zeman, program services manager of the Public School Foundation (PSF) was driving to work on Monday morning, November 16, when she heard her name mentioned on WCHL. She listened as the announcer celebrated her impact on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the wider community. To say she was surprised is probably an understatement, not because she is undeserving, but because she has tended to fly under the radar for more than 20 years of giving back to the schools and Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate and now PSF.  She embodies a "Hometown Hero" in her quiet influence and tireless advocacy for families and literacy. Winning the award during Family Engagement Month could hardly be more appropriate.

Zeman’s three children attended CHCCS, so her school volunteering began as many parents’ service does, in their elementary school classrooms. Although Zeman was capable of elevating any classroom volunteer role, her particular love and area of expertise has always been literacy. 

Mary Andrews worked in CHCCS in a variety of literacy positions until her retirement in 2013. She and Zeman’s shared commitment to literacy is legendary among teachers and parents over the past two decades. Andrews said, “Where to start with Nancy! Wow! We have been partners in so many literacy initiatives over the years -- since 1998 when we first met at Frank Porter Graham’s SGC meeting. She is an amazing and dedicated force for literacy.”

As a reading teacher and interventionist, Andrews helped develop two elementary literacy programs for the Volunteer Office in the early 2000’s, and Zeman volunteered in both programs, often hours each week. She volunteered with School Reading Partners (SRP) for 20 years, long after her youngest child had finished elementary school. She was also one of the first volunteers in CoachWrite, a writing support program piloted by Andrews and other literacy staff in 2002. For many years after that program began, new volunteers watched Zeman conduct a fourth grade writing conference in the program training video.

Zeman helped former SRP program manager, Susan Pearce, launch a summer reading program, Books on Break, in partnership with Durham non-profit, Book Harvest, and she continued to order the books and oversee the CHCCS program -- as a volunteer -- for many years.

Continuing their work together, Zeman and Andrews created Family Reading Partners in 2010 for early elementary students and their families. Participating families receive books chosen by their children, and the books come with age-appropriate conversation cards to deepen book discussions at home. The program launched at Estes Hills Elementary School, but it grew to become a county-wide nonprofit that has collaborated with the Family Success Alliance, Orange Literacy, the Refugee Support Center and other groups.

One other area where Zeman has made her mark for many years is as a mentor with Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate. For eight years she was the mentor of a young woman who is now in graduate school, and who she stays in close contact with. Having graduated from the program with one mentee, she returned to mentor another student who is now in high school.

Zeman finally transitioned from full-time community volunteer to staff member at PSF, where she has worked on developing grants for CHCCS staff and organizations that serve Pre-K through high school students and their families. In her capacity as program services manager, her seasoned understanding of families’ needs during this pandemic has kept her busier than ever, helping fund projects to address housing, childcare and nutrition needs, as well as homelessness and technology support.

In the Hometown Heroes announcement, Director of Title 1 and Family and Community Engagement, Roslyn Moffitt spoke of Zeman’s work with PSF. “She’s an unsung hero. She works quietly behind the scenes, but she gets things done. Anytime you call her and you have an idea about something that will help our students, she’s 100% behind you. It’s never, ‘We can’t do this,’ It’s always, “How can we get this done?’”

Andrews said, "It is Nancy's spirit of cooperation, her generous disposition, and her interminable kindness that justifies her title as our hometown hero. She is a wonderful human being inside out, outside in -- thorough and through!"

Congratulations to Nancy and thank you for your years of service supporting our students, staff and families!