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Meet Erica Shoulders-Royster ‘12MSA, ‘20EDD: ‘I am Determined to Continue the Fight to Ensure Educational Equity for All’

Erica Shoulders-Royster

Franklin County Schools’ 2019-2020 Principal of the Year Principal Erica Shoulders-Royster ‘12MSA, ‘20EDD has already achieved a number of firsts in her life. She is a first-generation college graduate, and she was part of the first Northeast Leadership Academy cohort. Now, she will be the first person in her family to earn a doctoral degree.

Learn more about Erica Shoulders-Royster.

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Area of Study: Educational Administration and Supervision

Activities/Interests: Principal of Franklin County Early College High School, member of Coley Springs Church, mother of five and general member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

I chose the NC State College of Education because of their reputation and my familiarity with the stellar staff. I had a great experience during my master’s program and did not doubt this would happen again with a doctoral degree. I was also encouraged by a former classmate — Teicher Patterson, who unfortunately lost his life to COVID-19.

Why did you choose your area of study?

I chose my area of study because I am excited and passionate about the topic, and I remain committed to education for students in under-resourced areas.

What do you hope to accomplish in your field after graduation?  

I hope to one day make a larger impact in the state of North Carolina for equity in education for all. I am open to the endless possibilities that are available to me.

What’s your next step? What do you have planned after graduation? 

I am currently serving as principal at the best school in the state — Franklin County Early College High School! I intend to continue serving in my current role. I also intend to share information about my study with others in the hopes it will be used to improve the conditions of traditional and charter schools throughout the state and country.

How has the College of Education prepared you for that next step?  

I am abundantly blessed and fortunate to have learned under the tutelage of some of the greatest educators in the state of North Carolina. I am prepared for the next step because of the experiences I have had and the quality education I received. Each professor and class gave me the materials needed to complete a thoughtful and well-needed study.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the College of Education?

It would either be the many presentations I completed for class or the many speakers we had a chance to listen to. I vividly recall former State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Professor of the Practice Mike Ward ‘77BS, ‘81MS, ‘93EDD inviting recent graduate Francemise Kingsberry to speak to our class at the onset of the doctoral process. She shared her experiences and the challenges, as well as what worked well in helping her finish and complete her goal. I remember being inspired after her presentation and thinking to myself, “I can do this.” I knew that there were odds against me — new principal, mother of five, first in my family, busy schedule, etc.  Nevertheless, I remembered the importance of “running my own race,” and not trying to compete or keep up with anyone else.

Tell us about an experience you had with the College of Education that had the biggest impact on you or your career.  

The biggest impact was working with my dissertation committee.  Each member holds a special place in my heart. Mike Ward was my co-chair. How fortunate was I? The many conversations we had and the time he took to help guide me through this process is outstanding. The discussions about the state of education in North Carolina remains a passion of his, and it is evident because he remains in the game. Lance Fusarelli, professor and director of the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development’s graduate programs, made himself accessible and offered assistance when needed. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Henry Johnson ‘90EDD came to the table with a wealth of knowledge that he never wavered in sharing with me. Last but not least was Brenda Champion, executive director of leadership academies and assistant teaching professor — this former transformation coach and Cornell and Harvard grad is a walking knowledge bank. She is currently helping to lead and provide oversight to the next generation of principal leaders. She both encouraged me and let me know that I can do this. I was blessed to have a powerhouse team leading and guiding me.

What did your dissertation focus on and why did you choose that topic? 

My dissertation was “Traditional Schools and Charter Schools: An Examination of the Impact of Policy Flexibility.” I was curious to learn why traditional schools were not given the same flexibility as charters and what the various leaders thought about them receiving that flexibility.

What challenges or difficulties have you overcome to get where you are today? 

I am a first-generation college graduate. I am the first and only member of my family to accomplish this feat. I earned this degree while working a full-time job as a high school principal and mother of five. This fall, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, and I have had countless medical appointments and continue to be prescribed various medications.  Nevertheless, I remain encouraged and determined to fight for my health while simultaneously fighting for educational equity and rights for all.

Why did you choose education? 

I chose education because it remains a passion of mine after what I thought would only be a two-year commitment with Teach for America in 1998. I quickly realized that this was my purpose in life. I enjoy learning and interacting with others. I remain passionate about this work, and I am determined to continue the fight to ensure educational equity for all. I like to believe I am positively impacting the lives of others, and I want to leave a legacy for future leaders in this country who care about their fellow man or woman, value education and want to leave a legacy of their own. I want the youth to know that education is the key to any outlet in life.

Photograph credit: Franklin County Schools