Former reporter turns education beat into fulfilling career

September 18, 2013
By Bill Krueger

Every day is a full day, Yolanda Wiggins says. In the initial days of another school year, Wiggins has entered the fray of juggling class rosters, visiting classes and attending daily meetings with parents, students and teachers.

YolandaThough she admits it’s difficult to balance her work as principal of Winstead Avenue Elementary School in Rocky Mount, N.C., with family life, Wiggins says she’s determined to do the job right.

“Nobody’s going to work harder than me,” she says.

This fall, Wiggins began her 15th year in education and second as a school administrator. During her two years in N.C. State’s Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA), Wiggins learned how to deal with many of the problems she now faces as an administrator.

“I found myself in a lot of different situations where I was having to talk with parents, students and even teachers, and a lot of the coaching we got with that helped tremendously,” Wiggins says.

But Wiggins says working in education wasn’t always part of her career plans. For five years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in her native Halifax County.

“I never could envision myself doing that because I was very, very shy, very quiet and did not like getting in front of people,” she says.

It wasn’t until her editor at The Daily Herald in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., assigned Wiggins the education beat that she began to consider teaching.

“I loved covering education,” she says. “My news editor at the time took me off the education beat and put me on city government and county government and that was it — the passion was gone. After that, my true passion was working in the school system.”

With some encouragement from a frequent contact in the school system, Wiggins left her job as a reporter to teach.

After 13 years teaching language arts in Halifax County middle schools and completing her National Board certification, Wiggins was recommended for NELA by School Superintendent Elease Frederick. Wiggins  began the program in 2010.

1-Dr.-J-and-little-girl-meet-principal (1)NELA offered Wiggins and educators from 13 other Northeastern North Carolina counties intensive coursework that involved role-playing, a year-long administrative internship and visits to various conferences and high-performing, low-income schools across the country.

After finishing the program, Wiggins worked at Hubbard Elementary School in Battleboro, N.C., during the 2012-2013 school year and left this summer to become the principal at Winstead Avenue Elementary School.

Wiggins says the support of her NELA mentor, Andy Overstreet of The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation on NC State’s Centennial Campus, helped her deal with difficult situations on the job. After completing NELA, graduates continue to have access to their mentors.

“That’s a fantastic part of the program,” Wiggins says. “[Overstreet] has coached me through some very difficult situations that were very stressful, and it was really good to get someone else’s viewpoint.”

Wiggins says mentoring students and teachers is the best part of her job. During the first week of school in August, Wiggins received an email from Hubbard Elementary Principal Shelia Wallace telling her about a conversation she had with a first-grade student.

“He found out I was leaving and told her she should have found some money in the budget to keep her because I was pretty good,” Wiggins says. “I thought it was pretty cute.”

— Alex Sanchez

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