Lincoln Elementary School’s Molly White is Principal of the Year
Lincoln Elementary School Principal Molly White’s forward-thinking initiatives have improved her school and led to her being named as the Southeast North Carolina Principal of the Year.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Mark Steelman
Big things are happening at Lincoln Elementary School, and the rest of the education community is starting to notice.
When Molly White took over as principal of the school three years ago, she came with 23 years of education experience, including time as the curriculum director in Pender County. But it was her implementation of a new approach called Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for teachers and staff that got her noticed by the state and nominated as the Southeast North Carolina Principal of the Year.
In White’s summary, PLCs are based on scientific research and designed to simultaneously train the teachers and provide them with the environment and support they need to enhance student growth. White is convinced that PLCs have helped her school.
According to Shirley Hord of Southwest Educational Development Library, “One basic attribute of the PLC is the shared mission and goals that staff members see as their common purpose. In the PLC, the vision grows as people work together over time. The community constructs a shared vision of the improvements they will work toward for the increased learning of students.”
The basic principle of White’s PLC structure at Lincoln Elementary is to keep the staff focused on the end goal: the students’ learning.
“We’ve always had team meetings, but we wondered if we were doing it with intentionality,” White explains. “There is a lot of depth to [the PLC]. I received a lot of training in Illinois that made sure we were maximizing this idea, which is always about student growth. We plan for instruction and assess if children are learning. There is a lot to it; it is not just another meeting.”
Lincoln Elementary School has been growing at an incredible rate. Over the past three years, the school has taken in more than 110 additional children, going from 492 to around 620 children enrolled. Supporting her teachers to meet that growth has been vitally important to White.
While it can be hard to assess the immediate impact of the PLCs, Lincoln Elementary has seen the basic skills of their students rise over the past couple of years. According to White, it is taking her teachers less time to get all students to grade level than ever. Meeting this milestone, Lincoln Elementary is now focused on helping children increase their rigor and gain access to more enrichment. This is a positive step for any student body.
Of course, Lincoln Elementary School still has its set of struggles. As White shares, there is a portion of her student body that is struggling with poverty. When facing this reality, White says she and her teachers work hard to help all students grow wherever they are and with whatever they need.
“I really believe in public education in that it is our job to break the cycle of poverty,” White says. “So I need to make sure that when working with our teachers I help them make the most of every minute. We get six and a half hours a day with the kids, and every one of those minutes has to count because it really is the difference for their future.”
White loves the staff and teachers she works with and credits them with Lincoln Elementary’s recent successful changes and forward-thinking initiatives.
“This staff is amazing,” she says. “It goes beyond buying in to the PLCs … it really is the way we do business here now. They are all so dedicated to the process and committed to our kids’ growth.”
In fact, it was because of a teacher’s initiative that the outdoor STEM classroom project and vision came to be. The funding to build an outdoor classroom at Lincoln Elementary is more than $3,000, and White put the award money she received for her recent nomination toward the campaign.
When asked about the future of education in Brunswick County, White says she is optimistic and excited. She encourages parents to visit schools before making education decisions for their families based on state report cards or anything else.
“Be sure you are educated first,” she says. “Have you been in your school and sat with your principal? I am always willing to sit with parents, teachers are, too! We are happy to educate anyone. But it is hard when people make assumptions based on someone else’s post, maybe on Facebook or wherever it is. … We try to go much deeper than any test.”
There is no doubt that White works hard to help her students get the best education they can. She puts in 12-hour to 14-hour workdays most days, spending her free time running or reading.
“We all want more for our kids,” she says. “And if you really believe that, it is really hard work.”
In addition to her nomination as the Southeast N.C. Principal of the Year, White will represent the state at the National Association of Elementary School Principals as the N.C. Elementary School Principal of the Year in Washington, D.C.