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Award-winning principal honored

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Lane Freeman, left, shakes Matt Smith’s hand while Smith hugs Michelle Harris on Monday during a celebration for the N.C. Principal of the Year at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro.

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BY JOHN H. WALKER
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

TARBORO — There were students and their parents, co-workers and administrators and school board members and there were everyday people from across the Edgecombe County community.

The one thing they all had in common was that they had come to the Mobley Atrium at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro to congratulate Matt Smith on being named the Wells Fargo N.C. Principal of the Year.

Smith, principal at Edgecombe Early College High School, was chosen from a field of eight regional winners and was recognized at an awards luncheon on May 10 in Cary.

The ever-humble Smith, who became the school’s  principal in 2014 after serving 16 years as an English teacher at Tarboro High School, was a finalist for N.C. Teacher of the Year in 2010.

“I’m so excited for Edgecombe,” Smith said as people started to arrive. “This is such a team win for all we do.”

Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent Valerie Bridges said the response was typical Smith.

“He is so humble,” she said. “He is so deserving. He came up through the ranks and is a teacher at heart and a leader by nature.”

Bridges said Smith will do anything to help a student succeed.

“He’s always trying to make a connection for the kids,” she said. “He is so dedicated to Edgecombe County Public Schools and he makes a difference.”

Bridges said during Smith’s time at the Early College High School, he has worked to grow the students and to expand the school.

“We have more students now and we are a more diverse student body,” she said. “He doesn’t just go try to find the most talented students … he looks for students who want to be successful and finds ways to help make that possible.”

Bridges said she was excited about the win for Edgecombe County because it shows that there are positives underway there.

School board member Raymond Privott, himself a 30-year principal, said, “This (recognition) means the world to Edgecombe County. We have been striving to get to this mark for a long, long time. It gives us credibility and let’s them (rest of the state) know there’s something going on east of Raleigh.

“It lets the world know we’re on top of things.”

Under Smith’s leadership, the Early College High School has earned an "A" school performance grade and exceeded its growth target in each of the past four years.

In his nomination portfolio, Smith said he is driven by a sense of hunger that keeps him focused on helping students and teachers grow and succeed.

"We dream big, set goals, implement action steps, adapt as needed, measure our results and start the whole process all over again," he 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."

As principal, Smith developed the Scholar Teachers Program, a public-private partnership modeled after the NC Teaching Fellows program to attract and support high school students interested in teaching careers. The prospective teachers receive additional coursework, internships in local schools and student loans repayable through teaching service in Edgecombe schools.

Smith earned a bachelor's of science degree in English education from Appalachian State University, where he attended as an N.C. Teaching Fellow, and a master's of school administration from N.C. State University through the Northeast Leadership Academy.

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