STEM Schools in NC

Dr. Hales Interview

Dr. Hales
Dr. Hales

Describe your leadership journey & how you arrived in your current role?

I began my leadership journey in 2005 as an AP in a low performing high school. Due to Judge Manning's involvement with low performing schools, districts across the state were tasked with implementing improvement programs at these specific high schools. Wayne County Public Schools leadership decided to implement two programs, America's Choice and NC New Schools Project. The America's Choice program was implemented in the school where I served as AP, and leadership also elected to start a new school on the same campus to draw kids from across our district since there was space available. I assisted in writing the initial grant for an innovative school in Nov./Dec. 2006 and was named principal of that school beginning March 1, 2007. The four months away from the AP position allowed me to plan the school and recruit students and teachers; we opened our doors in August 2007 with 84 students. Because we experienced such success with high school students, I still felt a desire to reach a younger set of students. This desire prompted me to approach our superintendent and board of education about the addition of a middle school which was added in year six. Today we have close to 450 students, grades 6-13, and 31 total staff members.

How does innovation play a role in your leadership at a STEM school?

The traditional administrative hierarchy is a strong system that exists in educational settings at all levels and keeps many administrators rooted in school management. The opportunity to change that traditional hierarchy presented itself in the creation of Wayne School of Engineering and my leadership style became rooted in collaborative experiences. Our daily school schedule was created to allow for high levels of collaboration between teachers and allows time each week for them to share lesson plans, provide peer feedback, plan, work on/analy work on/analyze assessments, participate in professional development, and reflect. Dr. Sam Houston stated that STEM stood for "strategies that engage the mind," and we took this mantra to heart with regard to our instructional approach. In the 13 years WSE has been open, we have always taken a consistent approach to the professional development to sustain our instructional focus which not only forms "habits of mind" but also assists in instructional consistency as teachers leave and new teachers transition to WSE. We continue that same approach to this day often working on our school improvement goals over the course of many years.

Dr. Sam Houston stated that STEM stood for "strategies that engage the mind," and we took this mantra to heart with regard to our instructional approach.

What tips and/or strategies would you share with other NC school leaders on rebranding their schools as STEM schools?

  • Build capacity within your staff.
  • Create a collaborative culture between staff members, between staff and leadership, between staff and students, between staff and parents, and between students.
  • Be creative in your mission to meet the needs of individual students; educating children will take flexibility on the part of all educators.
  • Encourage your teachers to try new instructional methods and be willing to support them whether successful or not in their efforts.
  • Be patient when hiring to make sure you get the right fit for your school culture and instructional focus.
  • Be patient with new initiatives as some may take many years to implement.
  • Be hands-on and participate with your teachers.

What’s New with STEM?

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addThe NCSMT Center is a non-profit organization focused on improving education as a means of providing all students in North Carolina with the knowledge and skills to have successful careers, be good citizens, and advance the economy of the state.

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addEach year, the SMT Center offers awards that recognize individuals and organizations whose extraordinary contributions to science, mathematics, and technology (SMT) education in North Carolina are helping to advance the mission of the SMT Center. Nominations are accepted each fall. Recipients of the awards are honored in the spring at the Celebration of Science, Mathematics, and Technology.

addCheck out the 2019 NCSMT Center Award Winners here:

  • Educator – K-8: Jennifer Tatum, Fifth Grade Teacher, Fairview Elementary, Fairview, N.C., Buncombe County Schools

  • Education – 9-16: Cliff Grimsley, Biology Instructor, Gaston College, Dallas, N.C.

  • Student Leadership Award: Hannah Yoder, Research Triangle Park High School

  • Champion Award: Dr. Thomas (Tom) J. Williams, Strategic Education Alliances, Raleigh, N.C.

  • Partnership Award: WakeEd Partnerships, Raleigh, N.C.

  • Informal Educator Award: Jan Weems, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, N.C.

  • Business & Industry: NC Electric Cooperatives, Raleigh, N.C.

  • Instructional Leader Award: Carla Billups, Elementary STEM Coach, Buncombe County Schools

NC school leaders, are you interested in transforming your school into a NC STEM School? Check out these awesome resources to help get your learning community started!

NC STEM School/Program Attributes

Elementary STEM Attributes

Middle School STEM Attributes

High School STEM Attributes