Kisha Clemons, principal of Shuford Elementary School in the Newton-Conover City School district, was named the 2020 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year at an awards luncheon today in Cary.
Clemons brought a strong focus on personalized learning to Shuford Elementary when she joined the school in 2016, an approach she credits for the school’s solid academic gains during her tenure. During each of her first three years at Shuford, the school exceeded its annual academic growth goals by robust margins. The school was honored as a National Title 1 Distinguished School in 2018 for strong performance among educationally disadvantaged students.
The former elementary and middle school music teacher from Catawba County said that the school’s culture of personalized learning empowers students and teachers through strong staff collaboration and instruction customized for the needs of individual students.
“A common misconception when a child is failing that they don’t care about school, they don’t care about doing well, they don’t care about being successful,” Clemons said in a 2019 video about the school’s focus on personalized learning. “What we have found is that it’s the exact opposite. Students want to be successful. They want to please you. They want to do their very best. But they don’t always have the skills to do that.”
At Shuford, she said, students set individual goals and monitor their progress toward those goals.
“Students are engaged and empowered to take ownership of their learning,” Clemons said in her submission for Principal of the Year. “Students have some control over time, place, path, and pace of learning and have choice and voice over where, when and how they work.”
State Superintendent Mark Johnson commended Clemons for her innovative and enthusiastic leadership that helps empower teachers and inspire students.
“Kisha says visitors to Shuford Elementary see students who are learning, engaged and empowered, but underneath is what others don’t see,” Johnson said at today’s awards presentation. “It’s the hard work, the persistence, the failure. It’s the journey.”
“I personally know her great work, and I can speak for all of North Carolina when I say we’re very fortunate to have such hard working and passionate leaders like Kisha in our schools,” Johnson said.
In naming Clemons as 2020 North Carolina Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, Juan Austin, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president and community relations manager said, “for the past 36 years the Principal of the Year Program has allowed us to demonstrate the value we place on school leadership. It also allows us to recognize and honor exceptional administrators across the state such as Kisha Clemons for outstanding work in preparing young people who are our future employees and customers to succeed in a global economy.
“We know that educational success continues to be the best predictor of economic and social success, and at Wells Fargo we believe that we are responsible for promoting the long-term prosperity and quality of life for everyone in our communities.”
Before joining Shuford Elementary four years ago, Clemons served two years as principal of Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School in the Rowan-Salisbury school system and five years as an assistant principal at Catawba and Mountain View elementary schools in Catawba County. She spent her first year in education as a music teacher and band director in Beaufort County Schools before returning to her native Catawba County, where she taught music and served as band director in middle schools for five years.
Clemons earned a bachelor’s of science degree in music education from Appalachian State University, which she attended as a N.C. Teaching Fellow, and also earned from Appalachian State a master’s degree in school administration. She is currently doctoral candidate in educational leadership at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Cierra Parker, a 5th grade teacher at Shuford, praised Clemons in the 2019 video about the school for her collaborative approach to leadership.
“The one dynamic that is so different since Miss Clemons has been here is that she gives us the ability that if we want to try it, she trusts us; 110 percent, she trusts us,” Parker said. “I don’t think that would be possible if she didn’t say, ‘I know that you know what’s best for your students.’ ”
The other regional Principal of the Year finalists for 2020 were:
- West: Lori Fox, Haywood Early College (Haywood County Schools)
- Southwest: Jennifer Brinson, Wolf Meadow Elementary School (Cabarrus County Schools)
- Piedmont: Ashley Lemley, Southwood Elementary (Davidson County Schools)
- North Central: Ruth Steidinger, Olive Chapel Elementary (Wake County Schools)
- Sandhills: Alfred Jean Hammond, Upchurch Elementary (Hoke County Schools)
- Northeast: Sheila Evans, White Oak Elementary (Edenton-Chowan Schools)
- Southeast: Deborah Hoffman, Jacksonville Commons Elementary (Onslow County Schools)
This year’s Wells Fargo Principal of the Year receives $3,000 for personal use and $3,000 for his or her school. The winner also receives professional development and resources supporting global awareness in the curriculum for their staff, thanks to Education First, a custom-made NC Principal of the Year signet ring, a complimentary two-night stay at the new Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Chapel Hill-Carrboro, and resources to help combat child hunger from No Kid Hungry NC.
This is the 37th year the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has partnered with The Wells Fargo Foundation to recognize the state’s outstanding principals. Since 1984, 41 Principals of the Year and 264 regional recipients have been recognized. In addition, The Wells Fargo Foundation has provided more than $1 million in cash awards during that time to these school leaders.
While continuing to lead his school for the next year, Wells Fargo will furnish Clemons with a stipend to travel across the state serving as an ambassador for education. She 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. She 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.