On Jan. 5, Rocky River Principal Ericia Turner was named the Southwest Region Principal of the Year. She will go on to compete for the state title.
Turner was surprised at her school by members of her learning community team and Superintendent Earnest Winston.
"I feel gratitude and excitement in my heart knowing that I get to represent an amazing group of educators, students and parents," said Turner. "But honestly, I have not done anything special. I just do the work."
Turner was a new principal in 2016 when she joined Rocky River High and shook things up a little. "I took away students' cell phones," she said. "That caused a bit of controversy."
Turner's policy allowed students to use phones only before and after school. Student government representatives asked her if they could earn back their phone privileges. Turner worked with the students to set behavioral and academic goals. When those were met after the first quarter, Turner allowed students to use their phones at lunch.
"For the first month without phones, some students wouldn't even speak to me," said Turner. "After a while, they started to see the purpose. They started coming up to me and saying their grades were improving and that they were excited about class."
Enforcing the policy was a team effort. "If the teachers didn't buy into it, it wouldn't have worked," said Turner. "They are in the trenches. They were a little skeptical at first, but I had to get them to trust me and encourage everyone to be consistent."
This demonstration of strong leadership is one of the many reasons Turner was named the 2020 Principal of the Year. She was also named the 2017 East Learning Community Principal of the Year.
After leaving CMS for nine years, 2016 was Turner's first year back in CMS. She was overwhelmed to be chosen by her peers. "There are great principals in my learning community," she said. "Some have been mentors. Almost all of them have helped me out on many occasions. Any of them could very easily get this recognition as well. I was speechless. I really did not expect it at all."
A native of Sherrills Ford, N.C., Turner earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She has an additional master's degree from Gardner Webb University and an education specialist degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she is currently pursuing her doctorate.
Turner began her career in Forsyth County. She lost an infant son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome two years into her career and moved closer to home to be with her family. She taught physical education and coached girls' basketball at Independence High School. In 2007, she began her principal internship at Mallard Creek High. Then she left CMS for a job as assistant principal at Newton Conover High. She worked in Alamance and Iredell counties as an assistant principal and athletic director until she returned to CMS. "I want my purpose to be evident every day," she said.
Turner was drawn to education as an undergrad, mentoring young girls as part of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. As she settled into her career, she said the loss of her son only solidified her decision. "My purpose became clear when my son passed away," she said. "I am a teacher and a coach. I want my purpose to be evident every day. My son died in someone else's care, and it is not lost on me that people entrust their children to me every day. I am sensitive to that, and it is not something I take lightly."