Felix S. Barker Award

The North Carolina Council for Exceptional Children invites anyone interested in nominating a CEC member for the Felix Barker Award. This award recognizes an individual who has shown outstanding leadership in the field of special education.  Nominees must be members of CEC. Award will be presented at the Annual State Conference in January 2018.

Previous Award Recipients
2011: Ruben Reyes, Cumberland County Schools

2012: Sam Dempsey, Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools

2013: Mary Watson, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

2016: Dr. Susan Osborne, North Carolina State University

2018: Sherry H. Thomas,
NC Department of Public Instruction 


Felix S. Barker (1902-1989)

In 1949, Felix S. Barker was brought from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation into a leadership role in special education by the late Dr. Charles Carroll, long time superintendent of NC DPI. It was a post-World War II era in which there was a renewed emphasis on children at all levels in society. The advances in rehabilitation services for World Wars I and II veterans and in the medical field in general were being utilized for children once thought to be untreatable and uneducable. Thus, Mr. Barker brought to his new role, a vision for the possibilities of improving the quality of life for children and youth who needed specialized education services.

Here is an example of Mr. Barker’s leadership in shaping the education of NC’s children and youth with special needs by citing the philosophy in the bulletin, Exceptional Children in NC, first published in 1953. In the forward, Dr. Carroll credits Mr. Barker with the writing of this bulletin with assistance from his small staff and input from school system personnel. These ideas are embedded in the introduction to the bulletin, which goes on to cite and interpret NC law regarding the education of exceptional children. Here are a few elements of the philosophy espoused by Mr. Barker:

  • .. . education for all children regardless of variance of abilities
  • . . .right to educational opportunity consistent with ability to learn
  • With minor exceptions, it is possible for the public schools to provide educational experience that will enable all children to develop feelings of adequacy and self-satisfaction
  • The problems of most children can be handled successfully in the regular classroom by the regular classroom by the regular classroom teacher
  • . . .possible for more and more handicapped children be placed in regular classrooms
  • . . . broad objectives of education are much the same for all children
  • . . . responsibility of special education is to provide for those children within the public school system, to see to it that they are not unnecessarily isolated from children of their own age and to find ways for them to participate . . .in activities and learning experiences with other children
  • There is a need for regular and special education teachers to work continually (and) purposefully . . .

Mr. Barker went on to call for the coordination of special education with the total instructional program and for special education programs to seek and maintain relationships with medical and psychological services, volunteer agencies, and local health and welfare departments, as well as private services. He emphasized special education as a logical forerunner of vocational rehabilitation and for using VR’s consultative services for those in special education as they reached age 16.

As one of the first directors of special education in NC beginning in 1963, Mr. Barker’s commitments to the above statements. In 1960, when the primary statewide services available for children with special educational needs were for those classified as “educable mentally retarded” and those with speech impairments. Mr. Barker labored tirelessly to enhance special educational services with very limited funds. He had the vision but not the means to make the vision more of a reality. Thankfully prior to and in 1960 through a coming together of many forces including the establishment of the Association for Retarded Citizens (now ARC), the election of John F. Kennedy as President, Terry Sanford as NC’s Governor, a legislature that recognized the needs of its school children, and the demand parents and advocacy groups, services for exceptional children increased rapidly.

Mr. Barker’s influence was significant at every level of the public schools in NC because of his leadership and tireless advocacy for the improvement of educational services for children with special needs. He was adept as working with legislators to see that budgets were increased so that children in special education had appropriate to textbooks and transportation to and from school in addition to teachers who directly served children on a full time basis or those who provided itinerant and consultative services. He worked with colleges and universities to develop teacher education programs; he collaborated with various public and private agencies to enhance services for exceptional children and youth in and out of the public school system.

Mr. Barker was especially adept at obtaining private funding for special events such as the statewide conference on exceptional children. In the beginning, the state conference and the NC Federation CEC were indistinguishable. Through Mr. Barker’s leadership the Exceptional Children’s Division of the Department of Public Instruction and NC CEC provided outstanding professional development through the annual conference that featured all the outstanding national leaders in special education. These leaders helped shape the thinking of those of us privileged to interact with them throughout the years as special education grew in NC.

Mr. Barker was a leader who sought expert advice, surrounded himself with a capable staff, found resources to support a shared vision, collaborated with those with shared interests, and was always committed to the highest quality of educational opportunity for children and youth especially those with special needs.


Eleanor Boyd Wright, PhD

Associate Professor Emerita

Instructor, Lecturer, Assistant and Associate Professor, Department Chair and Associate Dean Watson College of Education

UNC Wilmington

Director, Exceptional Child Services (First Director) Teacher of EMR classes