Bracy making his mark
By Jessika Morgan
TRENTON — Michael Bracy, Jones County Schools Superintendent, said the school system isn’t what it used to be — in a good way — but a stigma may still remain.
In December, Bracy, a native of Bertie County and former educational administrator in the Roanoke-Chowan area, was named one of three finalists for North Carolina Superintendent of the Year after being announced as the regional Superintendent of the Year.
A selection committee narrowed down eight finalists to three in October, followed by a series of interviews. The winners were announced during a ceremony in Goldsboro in December.
The winner, Mark Edwards of Mooresville Graded School District, also won Superintendent of the Year in Virginia before coming to North Carolina.
“I knew I was up for some stiff competition,” Bracy said. “That’s why I was so excited to be nominated in the top three.”
Edwards may have taken top prize, but Bracy’s spot meant something deeper to Jones County.
“There has been and continues to be a negative perception about the county,” Bracy said. “One of the things that’s been powerful (is) we focus on academics, but just as important as academics has been building relationships with students. That’s helped.”
He said five years ago, parents didn’t want to send their children to Jones Middle School because a bad reputation about the school spread via word of mouth.
Today, enrollment has increased, graduation rates have increased and Jones Senior High School is a top performing school, Bracy said, which are the first steps towards shattering the negativity associated with the rural education system that educates 1,251 students.
Jones Middle Principal Michael White said enrollment at his school is rising.
“The perception is so negative about the middle school and the county in general,” he said. “But I think this helps break some of the perceptions.”
Bracy taught White in the Bertie County Schools system in Bracy’s first year out of Atlantic Christian College, now Barton College.
“I’m really proud of him because I’ve known him for so long,” White said.
He is serving his sixth year at JCS, starting as assistant superintendent in 2008. Bracy is working on his educational doctorate at UNC Wilmington, usually attending evening classes.
He’s spent the bulk of his career in small counties.
“I think the smallness is a benefit,” he said about Jones County. “Central office doesn’t have the layers of people taking care of different things, we do it all. Sometimes that’s a benefit because stuff doesn’t get lost. We know it’s going to be taken care of.”
The connection he’s made with people is worthwhile, knowing most faces at the schools.
He visited the STEM lab at Jones Middle and was surprised when he didn’t recognize two students. It turned out they were both new to the campus; one arrived there less than two weeks ago.
“We are a small county,” Bracy said. “The neat piece about this experience and this opportunity to serve as superintendent in a small district is the people.”
He credited his administrative and teaching staff for his accomplishment.
“This award is not about me, and I want to make sure that’s clear,” he said. “This is about the great work that’s happening with principals, with teachers to make it happen. They get it done and they make me look good. I don’t want to short side that.”
Bracy said that he hopes his students learn success knows no status, which is very relevant to JCS students because 82 percent of them are on free or reduced lunch. The county is deemed as a “low-wealth district,” according to Bracy.
“I want them to set high expectations for themselves,” he said. “Don’t let where they live or the circumstances they’re experiencing now affect their life goals.”
Eighth grader Alana Marshall transferred into Jones Middle this year and called it an improvement from her previous school.
“The students at my other school didn’t care about what they did or whose feelings they hurt. The staff there didn’t care much about their students,” she said. “When I moved over to Jones Middle, everybody is just so welcoming and nice and the superintendent he seemed very sweet, too.”
Bracy said relations between the county commissioners and school board have improved since he became superintendent, and the two entities are hoping for major facility work.
“He has the respect of his board members, employees and students,” said JCS board member Mary Hall. “He’s carrying out his goals. He is on the right track, and he’s doing his job very well.”
Jessika Morgan is a Staff Writer for the Kinston Free Press, who granted permission for this article and photo to be republished in this newspaper.)