2013: Women to Watch

Published 10:44 am Friday, February 15, 2013

Among her diplomas from higher education institutions is Wanda Briggs-Trevino’s kindergarten diploma from Willis Hare Elementary School displayed just as proudly as the others.

The framed piece of paper is yellowed and aged, but it holds a special reminder for Trevino of her Northampton County roots. Thirty six years later, Trevino is now principal of Willis Hare and is helping to mold the future of the county.

It was love and family connections that brought Trevino back to Northampton after receiving her higher education elsewhere.

“I had family obligations, so you come back for that and you realize it’s where you’re supposed to be anyways,” she said. “The people from the community need to help the community.”

In her 20 years in education, half of those have been spent in Northampton County. In addition to attending Willis Hare she also went to Conway Middle School and Northampton County High School-East.

From the time she was young, the Conway native knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“When you’re in elementary school they always ask you to write the paper about what you want to be when you grow up and (teacher) is always what I said,” she said. “I never deviated from that. Just that desire to help other people.”

Trevino earned her bachelors in education with a concentration in secondary social studies and certification for 9-12 social studies from UNC-Chapel Hill.

She taught at Gates County High School and at Central Middle School Gates County for seven and half years.

“For several years I taught at both, I would teach half day high school, half day middle school, and added middle school certificate for social studies to my license and finished out my time in the classroom there,” she said.

Trevino then spent a year and a half with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as a teacher on loan.

“It was kind of a joint position—the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Northeast RESA (Regional Education Service Alliance),” she said. “I kind of still worked for Gates County, but they loaned me out and I worked as the teacher recruiter for Northeastern North Carolina for about 21 school systems.”

By the time she left that position, Trevino had completed her masters in school administration from East Carolina University and was yearning to get back into the classroom.

“Being on the road so much doing teacher recruitment, you work a lot with the adults, but you don’t get to work with the children,” she said.

As a teacher recruiter, Trevino said one of the things she preached was “grow your own teachers” to combat the teacher shortage.

“I kind of realized that I had not done that,” she said. “I had been teaching in Gates County, but not in Northampton County.”

Trevino began her career in her home county with a five day stint at W.S. Creecy Elementary School in Rich Square as assistant principal. However, the district needed her middle school expertise at Conway Middle School and she was soon reassigned to that administrative position. From there she moved to Northampton County High School-East.

Her other positions in the school district has included interim principal at Willis Hare, Conway Middle School, Gaston Elementary School and curriculum director at the district’s Central Office in Jackson.

“I have been around the block and back again,” she laughed.

Trevino’s next move would be to the Northampton Alternative School, a school that benefited from her unique approach to education.

“It definitely is a great program for the older kids because they need that safe, small, family environment atmosphere that they don’t feel like they’re getting at a larger school,” she said.

During her three years at the school, Trevino worked at building that family atmosphere among the approximately 30 students that attended Northampton Alternative. She noted how some students are not driven intrinsically to get good grades, therefore they turn to other outlets, but creating a family unit at the school was vital to helping the students’ behavior and academics.

“We talk about building relationships and that is key to getting kids to do what you want them to do, which is to learn,” she said. “That was the first phase, to take the kids that feel like people don’t love them and love them; treat them like they were your own kids.”

Trevino said although the students there did something to warrant being placed in the Alternative School she didn’t want it to be like a prison sentence for them. Each student that came into the school would sit down with their parents and the staff to discuss what had happened and talk about a plan of action.

“It was a place where they could come, get their act together and get back on track,” she said. “If you don’t do something for them at the Alternative School then the cycle is just going to repeat itself.”

In addition to pushing three requirements at the school (behavior, attendance and academic), Trevino said the students would participate in field trips, which would expose them to experiences beyond Northampton County, as well as healthy competitions, like who could raise the most donations for a school food drive.

“All kids are looking for ways to be a part of something, and if we don’t give them something positive to be a part of there’s too many people willing to give them something negative,” she said.

The family-like environment worked for Northampton Alternative. The test scores increased during her time there.

“Were they where I wanted them to be? Absolutely not, but we did achieve AYP the last year and High Growth the last two years, and their EOC scores doubled,” she said.

Trevino, who was named Principal of the Year for Northampton County Public Schools in November, made a move to Willis Hare Elementary last July. That same technique of a family unit, activities and strong academics she is applying at her own elementary alma mater.

“This school has a tradition of doing that being very much family oriented,” she said. “We’re constantly talking about good Tigers (the school’s mascot) and what a good tiger looks like even and being proud that you’re a tiger.”

The same requirements laid out at the Alternative School are the same at Willis Hare. Various activities held by the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) team reward students who strive to meet those high standards.

“It’s got to be a community; it’s not an institution,” she said about her philosophy on running a successful school. “That is what we’re raising, we’re raising and educating future community members and if we don’t instill that love of community in these kids, what is going to happen to the community?”