Local principal receives state’s top award


Matt Smith was named the 2019 Wells Fargo North Carolina Prin­ci­pal of the Year.


Staff Writer

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.