Bigley Wins Region Principal of Year
Sara Bigley, principal of Pinehurst Elementary School, has been named the Wells Fargo Regional Principal of the Year.
Bigley was selected among 11 other principals in the Sandhills/South Central Region for the honor after submitting a portfolio and going through interviews with a selection committee.
When she learned she had received the honor Jan. 24, Bigley was humbled.
“I’m truly honored because I know the caliber of administrators that were considered at both the district and regional levels,” she said.
Bigley is one of 210 regional recipients to be recognized since the program’s inception in 1984.
“Congratulations to these eight talented school leaders who have gone above and beyond to prepare students for the next grade and life after high school graduation,” State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement.
Bigley will serve on a state advisory committee with seven principals from the other regions that will work with the State Board of Education. As a member of the committee, she hopes to encourage policymakers to consider how everyone in education can work together collectively to meet the needs of today’s students.
“I think a lot of people are down on educators, and it’s been so challenging with cuts, contracting budgets and trying to do more with less,” she said. “That can be really challenging, but it can also be a great opportunity to do more creative things and to do different things. I think that’s important.”
Bigley has been principal of Pinehurst Elementary since 2007.
She received her bachelor’s degree in economics and industrial labor relations from Potsdam State College in 1989 and later received her first master’s of education in counseling and human development from St. Lawrence University, both in New York. She earned her second master’s degree from UNC Pembroke in 2004.
Bigley began her career at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in South Carolina as a counselor. There, she helped establish dual enrollment opportunities for local high school students and implemented outreach programs for students in middle and elementary schools.
In 1997, she began working as a counselor at Long Hill Elementary School in Fayetteville, where she later served as assistant principal.
She didn’t anticipate finding her passion through the work.
“When I made that leap [from the college to elementary education], it wasn’t something I anticipated really getting passionate about,” she said. “Working with the teachers, the parents, the children and the community, it really sparked that love of school leadership.
“I’ve just enjoyed it ever since. I feel fortunate to have had some wonderful professional experiences.”
Bigley began her career in Moore County in 2001, serving as a guidance counselor at Vass-Lakeview Elementary School for two years. She then took on an assistant principal position at Pinehurst Elementary before becoming principal there four years later.
Like other administrators in the district, Bigley admits she’s had her share of challenges since becoming a principal.
“Every year that I’ve been a principal, there have been budget cuts, which means personnel cuts,” she said. “That’s been hard.”
Bigley has also had to help her school adapt to structural changes over the last two years after seeing some of her staff and students move to West Pine Elementary School when it opened in 2010, and the addition of a kindergarten through second year-round program at the beginning of the 2011 school year, with the closure of Academy Heights Elementary School.
Bigley knew that she had to take measures to accommodate teachers and families during this year’s transition.
“It was such an abrupt change for them that it was really important for me to be sensitive to them and their needs to make sure that we're one community and one school family,” she said. “I think we’re getting there. The year-round families are wonderful, just like our traditional families.”
Bigley said that cultivating a strong sense of leadership in all levels of a school has been her strategy as an administrator moving her school forward despite cutbacks.
“It has to be a shared vision for that change,” she said. “You can’t just rely on a title. It’s developing leaders here, in our teachers and in our children. It’s multifaceted.”
When she was interviewing for Regional Principal of the Year, Bigley was in contention with her former mentor, Joan Frye, who was named this year’s principal of the year in Montgomery County.
Frye, principal of East Montgomery Middle School, previously worked in Moore County and helped Bigley as a new principal.
Frye said that while it was an honor to be considered for the same award, she was pulling for Bigley the whole time.
“When I saw Sara’s name, I was so excited,” Frye said. “She is a great girl. She works hard, and she’s focused on her students all the time. She’s really done tremendous work at [Pinehurst Elementary], and I’m so excited for her to be chosen as regional, and I look forward to her being named State Principal of the Year.”
Bigley credits Frye’s support early on and that strong sense of camaraderie she has found among the system’s administrators to her own success.
“We truly have wonderful leadership in this district,” she said. “It’s very special because you just don’t have that in other districts.”
She added that her selection for the honor and West Pine Middle School teacher Marci Houseman’s service as last year’s Regional Teacher of the Year signify that the Moore County school system is distinguishing itself as a leader in the state.
“I hope that people in other areas are noticing that it’s really a reflection of the district and the great things going on,” Bigley said.
The N.C. Principal of the Year will be announced in Raleigh on April 5. The recipient will serve as adviser to the State Board of Education for one year.
Bigley sees the potential role as an opportunity to promote the great things going on in the Moore County school system.
“It would be an honor, but not for me,” she said. “I’m not a limelight type of person, but I would love it for the district and for Pinehurst Elementary School because there really are great things going on here and in the district, and that’s come from great leadership.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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