Jim Butler of Richmond Senior High School has been named principal of the year for the 12-district Sandhills Region. He learned of the award during a districtwide principals’ meeting Friday morning.
Last Monday, Butler and principals from nine other districts nominated by their educational peers traveled to Fayetteville to meet with a three-member panel of judges to present their professional portfolios and outline their opinions on effective instruction and strategies to “grow” their schools, said Tina Chapman Starr, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s educator facilitator for the region.
Butler emerged from the interviews as “clearly the No. 1 choice,” she said.
“It’s a great honor,” Butler said Friday afternoon. “Awards are great. But if you asked any principal in the world” what his fondest hope would be, it would be to “have a good day at school.”
“When Monday comes,” he said, “the kids (won’t) really worry too much about whether I’ve gotten a plaque. Our whole mission is (more important): How can we help prepare (students) for what is next,” whether it’s college, the military or the workforce.
“We want to give (students) the skills (so that) when you get that diploma, it means something.”
Schools Superintendent Cindy Goodman lauded Butler’s choice.
“I am so proud of Jim, and he is certainly deserving of this recognition,” Goodman said Friday. “Jim is an accomplished leader who has taught, coached, served as an assistant principal, and has led several schools in the district.
“Good teachers want to work for Jim. He is one of the greatest culture builders I have ever encountered.”
Chapman Starr of DPI said the judges were most impressed with Butler’s belief that students’ readiness for life after high school was more important than a schools’ high graduation rate. Butler said Friday that his school’s graduation rate had dipped during his first year as principal.
“He really wanted that dip to mean (students) were ready for that next stage of life … and he knew that might be challenging,” Chapman Starr said. “He wasn’t afraid of the challenge.”
The only alumnus to become principal at RSHS, Butler moved to the school in July 2016, following the retirement of four-year principal Keith McKenzie. At the time, Butler said he was “looking to continue the good things that are going on, as well as bring a few new ideas” to the school.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, a master’s in school administration from East Carolina University and an education specialist degree from UNC-Greensboro.
Butler began his educators’ career teaching social studies at Rockingham Junior High School for nine years; he spent two subsequent years there as an assistant principal. He was assistant principal at RSHS for one semester before becoming principal at Hoffman Elementary School for two years. He subsequently was principal of Washington Street Elementary School, for five years, and Hamlet Middle School, for eight years.
Under his watch, the Hamlet Middle Red Rams twice were named a National School to Watch, in 2013 and 2016.
Butler graduated from RSHS in 1982, alongside wife-to-be Debbie, now a guidance counselor at Washington Street Elementary. The couple have two sons, Ryan and Drew, both of whom also are RSHS graduates.
“It’s not that much different” at RSHS than when he was a student, Butler said — other than moving from paperwork to computers.
“I did enjoy being in high school,” he said. “It was one thing that was consistent. (Being in the same school gives) me a lot of awareness of what these kids” also experience.
Butler is one of eight regional principals of the year and will compete against the seven others in a series of interviews in the spring. As a regional winner, he will receive a $1,000 cash prize for himself and one for his school.
In May, DPI will name its statewide principal of the year. That person will win $3,000 for personal and professional use, and $3,000 for his or her school.
“They become the voice and the advocate for North Carolina (educators),” Chapman Starr said of the statewide choice.
Should Butler win the statewide honor, he will have to balance speaking engagements and an advisory role with the state Board of Education with his principal’s duties.
“He’ll have to say ‘no’ sometimes: ‘No, I really need to be in my (school) building,’” Chapman Starr said of the crush of invitations Butler would receive.
Last year’s Sandhills regional teacher of the year was Mary Hemphill of I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School in Scotland County.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]