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BENSON — Leigh White, principal of Riverwood Elementary School north of Clayton, was selected as the 2019-20 Principal of the Year for Johnston County Public Schools. Darrick McNeill, assistant principal of West View Elementary School south of Garner, was named the county’s Assistant Principal of the Year.
White and McNeill were honored at a special ceremony held by the Johnston County Principal/Assistant Principals Association at West Johnston High outside Benson during the school system’s Leadership Academy on June 18.
“We have to take time to stop and celebrate our successes,” said Johnston County Public Schools Superintendent Ross Renfrow. “These individuals go above and beyond the call of duty and are recognized by their peers. They deserve and earned the opportunity to be in the spotlight for the quality of work they do on a daily basis.”
The Johnston County Education Foundation presented White with a $1,000 award —$500 for personal use and $500 for her school — and McNeill with a $500 prize.
Both White and McNeill were nominated by their colleagues to receive the award.
They were surprised by their families who were in attendance at the ceremony after they were named the Amy Renfrow Leadership Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year.
“Being named Principal of the Year was very emotional for me,” said White. “I’ve been an administrator for going on 13 years. To hear my name called was overwhelming because in this profession, you do what you do each and every day to serve children and to hopefully make a positive impact in the lives of the children and staff that we serve.”
The Amy Renfrow Leadership Principal of the Year Award is named after a former Corinth Holders Elementary principal.
White was described as someone who makes others feel important, as well as someone who is approachable, impactful and ignited. She is known for having a steady determination and putting students first in all decisions.
Colleagues said White takes the time to build relationships with everyone in her school, and she makes a point to greet each student by name every day.
“My favorite part of being a principal is that every single morning I get to stand at the front entrance and I greet every single child who comes through the front doors,” said White. “This way every child that comes by, I want to always make sure that I greet them, speak to them, and make sure they’re having a good morning.”
Those who nominated White described her as someone who understands leadership and who is constantly seeking to improve.
“She is the epitome of what a principal should be. She has refined grace under pressure and is calm, cool, and collected. Nothing appears to rattle her,” said Renfrow. “She is consistent every day in providing a quality service to students, staff, teachers, parents and the greater Riverwood community. She is a tremendous person.”
McNeill is described as someone who has a contagious smile and calm demeanor. He is known for being an exceptional communicator and a gifted leader who strives to bring out the best in others.
“It really means a lot knowing that my colleagues hold me in such high esteem, and to even be nominated for this award,” said McNeill. “I was listening to them read all of the attributes of the winner, and it caught me off guard to hear Dr. Renfrow call my name. It was electric, a pleasant surprise.”
McNeill is known among his peers for being involved in the lives of his students and for valuing teachers’ voices. He provides encouraging words while also setting boundaries of expectations for academic and behavioral achievements.
“Darrick is completely selfless. He is always doing things for others, most of the time behind the scenes,” said West View Elementary Principal Chenetra Mangum. “Many times Darrick would have gotten something done before my hands even had to touch it, and as a new principal, this was invaluable to me. Any task that he’s given, you never have to check behind him, because it’s done. He’s a true servant leader. He cares about staff and most certainly the students, continuously ensuring that their best interest is always at the forefront.”
White and McNeill will represent Johnston County Public Schools over the 2019-20 school year as the Principal and Assistant Principal of the Year.
Both White and McNeill said they hope to continue being servant leaders for their schools and communities over the next school year.