J. Glenn Edwards goes to 'Head of Class'

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 06:24 PM

With the announcement that J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School had won the coveted Head of Class award on Monday, it became the third school in three years to be named the best elementary school in Lee County.

The Head of Class is an honor developed by the Lee County Education Foundation, a group of private community leaders and businessmen who worked with officials from Lee County Schools to develop a unique way of offering incentive-based pay to local school employees.

"In our third year, we are proud the Head of Class Project can continue to support teachers, administrators and faculty for their contributions to a more educated Lee County," Sanford Mayor Chet Mann, who also serves as chairman of the Lee County Education Foundation, said in a press release.

The award is based on how a school does in both its overall test scores and its growth — the technical term for the measure of how many low-performing students from a previous year were able to bring their scores up. B.T. Bullock Elementary School won the first year, followed by Greenwood Elementary School last year.

The winning school receives a statue to be displayed in the lobby, as well as a check for $50,000, which is split among all its employees.

Principal Christina Womble wasn't at the school last year, but she said she's incredibly proud of everyone who did contribute to the school's success — and she's hoping for a repeat next year.

"We're very thrilled, but also motivated," she said. "Because when you realize you're good enough to win awards, it motivates you to get even better and do it again."

The student body at Edwards is traditionally composed of many low-income students and others defined as "at-risk" by the state. Womble and other faculty members didn't shy away from that fact, though.

Angela Holmes, a first grade teacher who has been with the school about 15 years, said her students this year have been particularly challenging. But that just gives her even more motivation, she said — a trait she said much of the school's staff shares.

"I'm excited," Holmes said of winning the award. "I think we work really, really hard as a staff, and I think we deserve it."

Candace Smith, a guidance counselor who has been at the school for a decade, agreed that just because students might struggle with academics or behavior doesn't mean they're given a soft treatment.

"That just makes you push them even harder," she said.

Mann said he equates education with economic development, writing that "Our success, in the long-term, will be realized as our students move on to esteemed colleges and universities and into the workforce, as many of them will return to Lee County to help build a more economically sound county."

Lee County Schools Superintendent Andy Bryan wrote in an email that he's proud of the staff at Edwards and is excited for the future of the district's relationship with the education foundation.

"I am grateful for their vision and commitment in establishing the Head of Class award," he said.

The Head of Class has, at its core, the idea that everyone at a school helps students achieve their academic goals — whether it's teachers, counselors or non-educators like cafeteria and custodial workers. So in that spirit, the $50,000 award must be split amongst them all. Each Edwards employee will get a check for between $270 and $1,000.

That all-inclusive pay structure is believed to be unique to incentive-based pay initiatives in North Carolina and possibly the nation, officials have said. It has since been considered as a model for a statewide incentive pay system.

The award itself will be presented at at 9 a.m. Friday at a ceremony at the school's gym.