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Perspective | POY: ‘I’ve had a long love story with North Carolina public schools’

I believe that being a principal is a tremendous privilege, even on the hard days. And there are some, truthfully there are some.

I am fortunate to stand beside many dedicated North Carolina educators to do the important work of creating thriving schools.

I’ve had a long love story with North Carolina public schools, and it started with with my schooling at Mulberry Elementary School. My parents were home builders in our rural community, and I grew up watching them help families find a place to live and also to raise their own families.

My parents taught me to work hard, to respect and to care for other people, and they also taught me that I could learn something from every single person that I met. Most importantly, my mother showed me that every family wants the best for their children, and that every child is someone’s cherished gift. Mulberry Elementary was our beloved community hub, and it’s one that offered all children the opportunity for a bright future.

School was a place where adults answered our endless questions, while strong teachers taught us to find our gifts, to identify our purpose, and to contribute to a community. School was also a place of safety, of possibility, of discovery, and very much connection.

So it was when I was a child at school that I discovered the collaborative and collective power and energy that can be created when a community comes together to support the children in its schools.

“Our school is a love letter to public education.”

— 2024 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year Beckie Spears

And now as principal at Wilkesboro Elementary — where I also was a student and a teacher and a mama — my colleagues and I work really hard to build a nurturing supportive community for this generation of families.

Our school is a love letter to public education, and we make it our mission to help all learners — kids and adults alike — reach their greatest potential. We demonstrate that for us love is an actual art. We show love through our structure, the high expectations that we have, the relationships we build, and the energy that we bring to school every day for our students. We demonstrate that love by creating the right conditions for students to find who they are and what they can be.

We help them engineer dreams of their future, and we empower them with the skills and the knowledge to become that. We also support parents and families by helping them navigate modern family life, which is complicated and challenging, and by thanking them as partners who nurture and value their children’s learning.

Children only get one childhood, and we take seriously the great responsibility we have to make schools enjoyable, joyful, productive, and rich with the opportunity for learning so there is joy in every school day.

Our school motto is we can do hard things.

The quality of a school principal cannot exceed the quality of its educators, and it is important to honor, acknowledge, and highlight the important role that they play in our community and in our state.

I recently heard someone say that hope is the single most important thing that we can bring to our school communities. And hope was described with an acronym — hearing other people’s experiences.

I feel hope when I think of the dedicated educators in our state, who routinely do hard things to support others. I think of the bus drivers, the custodians, the cafeteria staff, the support staff, and all the people who come to North Carolina schools and see the value in every child and work to build pathways to succeed.

These are powerful stories — the stories of individual educators whose collective work strengthen bonds and lift our communities. We need to tell these stories. When we share the things that we’re doing and the good work that’s being done in our schools, we can build a more robust engagement with public education, and more celebration, more respect, and more meaningful support for public educators.

I’m proud of our collective commitment to creating these nurturing supportive spaces where all children have the opportunity to learn to grow and to find their place in the world.

Editor’s note: Principal Becky Spears made these remarks on Friday, May 24, 2024 at the celebration honoring all of the regional principals of the year. Her remarks have been edited lightly for publication.

We believe in the power of saying thank you, and Spears included in her remarks many, including:

  • the support and engagement of the entire Wilkesboro elementary school community;
  • the entire Wilkes County Schools community and Superintendent Mark Byrd;
  • a friend and mentor who took a chance on her as a young administrator, teaching her to hire the best people and coach them towards their strengths;
  • her family: “being a public educator is a family affair;”
  • her sister: “it is through her love, her encouragement, and daily counseling sessions that I am able to keep growing;”
  • the sponsors of POY, noting “the love, the professionalism, and the generosity that has been shown for us throughout this award season has just it’s been overwhelming. It’s something that educators don’t often experience.”

Spears concluded her remarks inviting the regional POYs to join her on stage, saying she was excited “to stand and serve with them as we spread the good things that North Carolina public schools do. Together we can and will do hard things.”

Beckie Spears

Beckie Spears is the principal of Wilkesboro Elementary School in the Wilkes County Schools. She is the 2024 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.