Matthew Bristow-Smith, a past regional teacher of the year who has led Edgecombe Early College High School to high student performance for the last five years, was named Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year at an awards luncheon today in Cary.
The small, application-based high school earned an "A" school performance grade and exceeded its growth target in each of the last four years during Bristow-Smith's tenure.
The former high school English teacher said in his nomination portfolio that he is driven by a sense of hunger that keeps him focused on helping students and teachers grow and succeed.
"We dream big, set goals, implement action steps, adapt as needed, measure our results, and start the whole process all over again," Bristow-Smith said. "We are never satisfied. We are continually improving. When we fail, we learn from our failure, and when we succeed, learn from that success and set new goals."
State Superintendent Mark Johnson underscored the critical role that principals play as instructional leaders in their schools and in setting the tone for powerful teaching and learning.
"The best principals lead by example and with humility," Johnson said during today's presentation. "They support and guide their staff in ways that motivate and inspire around shared goals and values that focus squarely on students and their success. All eight of the principals seated here today are great examples of that kind of leadership."
Juan Austin, senior vice president for corporate philanthropy and community relations at Wells Fargo, said he was honored to be able to recognize Bristow-Smith for his outstanding contribution in Edgecombe County and as a new ambassador for public education in the state.
"We have proudly supported North Carolina's Principal of the Year Program for more than 35 years now, and we are thrilled to demonstrate our commitment to education by continuing our support this year," Austin said. "This program allows us to honor exceptional school leaders across the state like Mr. Bristow-Smith for the work they do to prepare young people for successful futures.
"By partnering in worthwhile programs that support and reinforce worthwhile goals, we make significant contributions to the communities in which we live and work."
Before joining Edgecombe Early College as principal in 2014, Bristow-Smith spent 16 years an English teacher at Tarboro High School, where he was chairman of the school improvement team and led efforts to establish a freshman academy and to restore AP courses to the school district, among other efforts. He was a finalist for N.C. Teacher of the Year in 2010, from the North Central Region of the state.
As a principal, Bristow-Smith developed a countywide initiative, the Scholar Teachers Program, a public-private partnership modeled after the NC Teaching Fellows program to attract and support high school students interested in teaching careers. The prospective teachers receive additional coursework, internships in local schools and student loans repayable through teaching service in Edgecombe schools.
As evidence of the "family culture" he said he has strived to create at Edgecombe Early College, he included a letter from a student who expressed her gratitude for his support.
"I remember all the times you talked to me and how happy it made me feel like a person for once," she wrote. "It's all the little things that you did to help me, that I can't forget."
Bristow-Smith earned a bachelor's of science degree in English education from Appalachian State University, where he attended as a N.C. Teaching Fellow, and a master's of school administration from N.C. State University through the Northeast Leadership Academy.
The other regional Principal of the Year finalists for 2019 were:
- Northeast: Melissa Fields, Perquimans Central (Perquimans County School);
- Southeast: Elizabeth P. Pierce, Frink Middle (Lenoir County Public Schools);
- Sandhills: James "Bo" Mullins, Clement Elementary (Sampson County Schools);
- Piedmont-Triad: Sean Gaillard, Lexington Middle (Lexington City Schools);
- Southwest: Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones, West Charlotte High (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools);
- Northwest: Michelle Baker, Eastfield Global Magnet (McDowell County Schools) and
- Western: Brandon Sutton, Swain Middle (Swain County Schools).
Regional winners will each receive $1,000 for personal use and $1,000 for their schools.
As Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, Bristow-Smith receives $3,000 for personal use and $3,000 for his school. He also receives professional development and resources supporting global awareness in the curriculum for his staff from Education First Tours, a custom-made N.C. Principal of the Year signet ring and pendant from Jostens Inc., a complimentary two-night stay at the new Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Chapel Hill-Carrboro, and resources to help combat child hunger from the Principal of the Year program's newest sponsor, No Kids Hungry NC.
While continuing to lead his school for the next year, Wells Fargo will furnish him with a stipend to travel across the state serving as an ambassador for education. He will serve as an advisor to the State Board of Education and also to the board of directors for the Public School Forum of North Carolina. He will also compete for national recognition through the N.C. Principals and Assistant Principals Association and will serve on the 2020 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year selection committee.
Additional information about the NC Principal of the Year program, is available online. You also can follow the North Carolina Principal of the Year finalists on Twitter at #NCTOYPOY.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.