Edgecombe County Public Schools
When Valerie Bridges ’02MSA, ’10EDD was growing up, she witnessed firsthand the impact a teacher could have on the lives of her students through her mother, Gloria Howard, a retired educator with over 30 years of experience. That inspired her to pursue a career in education.
But Bridges didn’t start out in education. Earning a bachelor’s degree in accountancy, she worked as a tax auditor for the N.C. Department of Revenue before becoming a state auditor for the State Auditor’s Office. While working as a state auditor, she began a teacher training program, which led her to a position as a high school teacher with Wake County Public Schools at East Wake High School. And that was the start of her education career.
While teaching high school, Bridges says her assistant principal kept encouraging her to pursue school administration. He believed she had what it takes to be school principal and kept talking to her about the impact she could have on students and a school. After declining on several occasions, Bridges decided to shadow him during her planning period, before school and after school, to better understand the work. The more she shadowed him, the more intrigued she got.
After about a month of shadowing, he presented Bridges with information on the NC State College of Education’s Master of School Administration program. She enrolled in the program, earning her degree in 2002.
From there, Bridges took the leap into school administration, serving as a middle school assistant principal, an elementary school principal, a director of middle grades education and student support services, an assistant and associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and an interim superintendent, working between Wake, Guilford, Washington and Edgecombe counties. As she continued to grow and move into various leadership roles, she earned a Doctor of Education in educational leadership from the NC State College of Education.
“While in my doctoral program, we had assignments that required us to interview and interact with our superintendent. I had an opportunity to interview and talk with my regional superintendent, as well as the county superintendent, to garner support and learn more about their role and position,” she said. “The possibilities were endless and the opportunities to change the trajectory of students’ lives as well as their families caused me to be seditious about the role.”
Bridges now serves as superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools, where she has been for the past four years, and was just named the 2021-22 Central Carolina Regional Education Service Alliance (CCRESA) Regional Superintendent of the Year.
In her role as superintendent, Bridges says she helps to create an environment that allows students, teachers, administrators and other staff members to be their very best; creates conditions that make success more likely to occur; helps develop a vision for the school district that impacts the community; and rallies the community to care about, believe in and support the school system and its mission, vision and goals.
Her research interests include female leadership, racial equity and social-emotional learning.
“All the aforementioned issues are near and dear to my heart. I have experienced many challenges as a leader, specifically as an African American female leader. I enjoy the process of both qualitative and quantitative research to continue to expand my knowledge,” she said. “Overlooking social-emotional concerns often can manifest into mental health issues if left unaddressed. I think that I am attracted to marginalized people and those who have the deck stacked against them.”
“NC State was the program to be a part of! Most school administrators in Wake County and bordering counties considered NC State to be a viable educational experience. I attended high school and my first two years of college within walking distance. My husband was a huge NC State fan and attending seemed like a right fit for me and my family at the time.
Pivotal for my development and experience as a school administrator, NC State’s master’s program connected me with other educators who were interested in making a difference for the students in North Carolina. We were led by quality professors with hands-on experience as former school administrators, teacher leaders, central office staff and superintendents. As students, we worked during the day and learned from stellar leaders with research skills in the evening. Professors would participate in site visits and provide each of us with advice and summary statements for improvement. These are the same professors that suggested that I apply for the doctoral program. I took their advice and was elated to be accepted into the educational leadership doctoral program.
As a doctoral student and school administrator, I continued to learn and garner connections with leaders throughout the state. Professors and students would engage in research together, which increased my confidence and self efficacy as I moved into leadership roles and responsibilities from Wake County and Guilford County. I reached out to my doctoral advisor before applying and accepting my next role from principal to central office. The relationships I developed as a. master’s and doctoral student helped me to make wise and worthy decisions in my career trajectory. Great relationships and quality education allow opportunities for exponential success.
Scenarios and classroom discussions were powerful for the master’s and doctoral programs. The engagement in class was amazing. The interactiveness allows students to be transparent in class while asking questions of each other and our professor. There was always follow up on our queries, relevant guest speakers and a clear emphasis on doing the right work for students. Class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings was an opportunity to learn and teach. We were comfortable sharing our experiences and gaining valuable guidance and advice. During my master’s and doctoral classes is when journaling and self reflection were truly embedded into my personal and professional processes. Journaling has served as a therapeutic and healing remedy for a heavy day. Journaling is also a great method for capturing and memorializing success and beautiful moments.
Each time that I have graduated from NC State University, I felt prepared for the career change that ensued. I received a great education that was hands-on, embedded with strong relationships and an enormous amount of success. Our professors wanted us to succeed. They were excited about our career advancements and our scholarly work. We always felt as though we had a ‘raving fan’ in our corner. I couldn’t have asked for more or better support. Thank you NC State, PACK POWER (fingers making the Wolfpack symbol)!”