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A love letter to public education: Meet 2024 N.C. Principal of the Year Beckie Spears

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The 2024 Wells Fargo Principal of the Year is Beckie Spears, the principal of Wilkesboro Elementary School, where she was “a student, and a teacher, and a mama.”

“I believe that being a principal is a tremendous privilege even in the hard days,” said Spears. “Our school is a love letter to public education.”

Superintendent Catherine Truitt, who made personal remarks about each finalist, said, “You believe that the answers to the questions ‘who are we’ and ‘who do we serve’ are found right there within the community. You know that the strengths and passions of the people within a school help fulfill your mission and that your community of learners includes students, teachers, and parents alike.”

According to a press release from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI), “Over the past five years, Spears has made a tangible impact on the performance and culture at Wilkesboro Elementary School, and as a result, the school exceeded expected growth for the 2022-23 school year.”

Forty years ago, the very first North Carolina Principal of the Year was Dr. Alexander Erwin from Wilkes County Schools, who happened to be the high school principal of Spears, according to DPI.

“The Wells Fargo Principal of the Year Award was introduced in 1984 to recognize the role of the principal in establishing an environment conducive to the pursuit and achievement of academic excellence in North Carolina’s schools,” according to the website of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

The Wells Fargo Principal of the Year is an ambassador for the state’s approximately 2,500 principals. The individual selected for this honor serves in an advisory capacity to the State Board of Education for a two-year term and on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Public School Forum.

“When they speak about what we can do that is best for our students, … we listen, and we learn from them,” said Alan Duncan, vice chair of the N.C. State Board of Education. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

A livestream was made possible by Equitable Advisors and PBS North Carolina. You can watch the celebration here.

“At Wells Fargo, we share the belief that education is the most important investment in our country’s future that we can make,” said Juan Austin, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Corporate Philanthropy and Community Relations. “We care about education.”

Find more on social media at #NCTOYPOY.

Meet the Regional Principals of the Year

Mebane Rash/EdNC

Sonya Rinehart, John A. Holmes High School, Edenton-Chowan Public Schools | Northeast Region

Truitt said, “You believe that leadership is all about inclusivity. Your faith in the power of collective efficacy shows up daily in school community, and it’s clear to everyone that you value the importance of all instead of most.”

Christianne May, Castle Hayne Elementary School, New Hanover County Schools | Southeast Region

Truitt said, “You believe that we have an obligation to deliver excellence to our students who are our future leaders. You are the embodiment of the mantra ‘there is no I in team’ and know that it takes all of us to guide, support, and provide that excellence to our school community.”

Winston Pierce, Farmington Woods Magnet Elementary School, Wake County Public Schools | North Central Region

Truitt said, “You believe that student agency and engagement are intertwined. You strive to create conditions right for learning and everyday you work to help families connect to their child’s school so that partnerships work for all children.”

Erica Fenner-McAdoo, Howard Hall Elementary School, Cumberland County Schools | Sandhills Region

Truitt said, “You believe that we are all in this together, and that no one person is more important than another. You operate from a place of positivity, grounded in the idea that success builds on itself. Everyday, you work to show students that self improvement is possible when we work hard.”

Dr. Nancy Martinez, Career Center High School, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools | Piedmont Triad Region

Truitt said, “You believe that transparency allows for all stakeholders to find a place at the table and that this in turn yields fruitful advocacy. You work tirelessly to actualize hope for students by surrounding them with love and high expectations.”

Dwight Thompson, Renaissance West STEAM Academy, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools | Southwest Region

Truitt said, “You believe in the power of truth telling and the role it plays in convincing students that they are capable of doing great things. You know that taking care of teachers is key to taking care of students and that when everyday is a new day the possibilities are endless.”

Phil Rogers, R-S Central High School, Rutherford County Schools | Western Region

Truitt said, “You believe that a principal’s impact is exponential and that all decisions must filter through the question, ‘does this help our students?’ You have a natural inclination to want to fix what’s not working and you know that being visible and accessible allow us to come together and make things better for students.”

Dr. Sarena Fuller, ArtSpace Charter School | Charter School

Truitt said, “You believe that education is about people, and that in order to empower people you must give them a voice. Your commitment to listening is as important as your commitment to giving students and teachers a place to be bold so they can see the size of their gifts.”

The North Carolina Principal of the Year Network

The North Carolina Principal of the Year Network is “dedicated to showcasing the exemplary work occurring within North Carolina’s public schools, fostering a culture of excellence, and advocating for the advancement of school leaders and public education across the state,” according to a new website. Meet the former POYs here.

The focus of the network includes:

  • Marketing the success stories of public education,
  • Promoting recruitment and retention of effective school leaders, and
  • Advocating for public schools and school leaders.

You can connect with the POY Network on Facebook and Twitter, now X.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.