Local principal receives state’s top award
BY AMELIA HARPER
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Matthew Bristow-Smith, principal of Edgecombe Early College High School, has been selected as the 2019 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.
Better known as Matt Smith to most people in the Twin Counties, Smith was presented the award at a ceremony on Friday in Cary. Smith, who was a past regional teacher of the year, has led Edgecombe Early College High School to high student performance for the past five years.
The school also has earned an “A” school performance grade and exceeded its growth target in each of the past four years during Smith’s tenure, according to a press release from the State Board of Education.
While continuing to lead his school for the next year, Smith also will receive a stipend from Wells Fargo to travel across the state serving as an ambassador for education in his new role as N.C. Principal of the Year. He will serve as an adviser to the State Board of Education and also to the board of directors for the Public School Forum of North Carolina.
Smith told the Telegram he hopes to use his new position as a way to elevate the concerns of rural schools.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to represent North Carolina’s educators, principals, scholars and families. In particular, I am excited to be from rural Edgecombe County. North Carolina has the second-largest rural student population in our country, behind Texas, and I hope to elevate the voices and priorities of rural schools,” Smith said. “I love Edgecombe County, I love North Carolina and I love our scholars.”
As one of eight regional winners of the Principal of the Year award, Smith will receive $1,000 for personal use and $1,000 for his school. As Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, Smith also will receive an additional $3,000 for personal use and $3,000 for his school.
Smith also will receive 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.
Smith, a 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, according to the press release.
“We dream big, set goals, implement action steps, adapt as needed, measure our results and start the whole process all over again,” 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.”
Before joining the Early College High School as principal in 2014, Smith spent 16 years as 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 restore AP courses to the school district, among others. He was a finalist for N.C. Teacher of the Year in 2010.
As a principal, Smith developed an innovative countywide initiative called the Scholar Teachers Program, which is a public-private partnership modeled after the NC Teaching Fellows program designed to attract and support high school students interested in teaching careers.
Valerie Bridges, superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools, said she is proud of Smith's achievement.
“Matt Smith is a stellar principal with a proven track record — he is an asset to Edgecombe County Public Schools as well as the state of North Carolina,” she said. “To say we are proud of him is an understatement. His care, concern and dedication to our students is to be applauded and revered. We thank Mr. Smith for his relentless efforts to make Edgecombe Early College a model school and a wonderful place to study and to work.
At Friday’s ceremony honoring the eight Regional Principals of the Year and announcing the state honor, state Superintendent of Public Instruction 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. “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 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.”
Smith said he appreciates the role Wells Fargo plays in recognizing educational leaders in the state.
“Thank you to Wells Fargo for recognizing 96 district Principals of the Year, eight Regional Principals of the Year and the State Principal of the Year,” Smith said.
Smith now will 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.