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Nash County Elementary School Principal of the Year Yolanda Wiggins ‘12MSA: ‘I Never Saw Myself as an Educator. Others Saw it in Me and Encouraged Me to Take My Love of Literacy into the Classroom to Inspire Students’

Yolanda Wiggins

Yolanda Wiggins ‘12MSA worked as a reporter for local newspapers in Halifax County for five years. During that time, she encountered teachers, students and administrators from the Halifax County School System. And was encouraged by the superintendent to try teaching.

Wiggins later realized she wanted a more hands-on role in education. With a degree in English/writing, she went through North Carolina’s lateral entry/residency license program and became a middle school English teacher in Halifax County, where she taught for 13 years.

“I never saw myself as an educator. Others saw it in me and encouraged me to take my love of literacy into the classroom to inspire students,” said Wiggins. “I tried it and fell in love.”

That was the start of her 23-year education career.

For the past eight years, Wiggins has served as principal of Winstead Avenue Elementary School, and was named the 2020-21 Nash County Elementary School Principal of the Year.

“It feels wonderful to be recognized for all the hard work that you put in. I do what’s right by people even when no one is looking — that’s just my character,” she said. “I put a lot of time into this because my students are worth it. It’s challenging work. So to be recognized by my peers means so much to me.”

Before taking on the principal role at Winstead Avenue, Wiggins spent a year as an assistant principal at Hubbard Elementary, where she was named Rookie Assistant Principal of the Year by the school’s superintendent. She got her start in administration as an assistant principal intern at Hollister Elementary School while pursuing her Master of School Administration from the NC State College of Education’s Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA).

Wiggins, who wanted to make a broader impact beyond her classroom, was introduced to NELA by a superintendent who thought she’d be a good candidate for the program.

Never seeing herself as an administrator, Wiggins was also encouraged to apply by Professor Bonnie Fusarelli, Ph.D., director of NC State’s Leadership Academies, who thought Wiggins was perfect for the program.

“The hands-on, practical experiences of the NELA program prepared me for the major challenges that administrators face,” Wiggins said. “I have learned that some things are universal or practical across all situations — soft skills (emotional intelligence) transcend all areas of work and life, and relationship building is the foundation of all major successes.”

Wiggins says her year-long internship through NELA was an experience that made an impact on her. “The ability to apply what I was learning in real time was powerful because I was able to learn a lot of what to do and what not to do when I became an administrator,” she said.

Wiggins serves her district as a principal mentor and as a member of the Principal Advisory Committee, Equity Council, World Language Steering Committee, Promotion Standards and Accountability Committee, and Calendar Committee. And she gives back to the college by serving on various panels and roles in the recruitment of futures leaders to NC State.

“Some of the best advice I have received was from former North Carolina State Superintendent June Atkinson during my time in NELA — grow where you’re planted — and from my first superintendent, Dr. Anthony Jackson, who promoted me to principal — listen, learn, lead — in that order. It has served me well and defined my career as an administrator.”