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UCPS announces 2022-2023 Principal of the Year finalists

Joy and excitement were the theme on Thursday, Sept. 29 as Union County Public Schools (UCPS) Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan, senior leaders, and Board of Education members revealed the names of the top 10 UCPS Principal of the Year finalists by surprising them at their schools. Catching the finalists by surprise, the group popped into cafeterias, hallways and classrooms to congratulate the finalists.

Every year, UCPS recognizes principals who not only exemplify outstanding leadership and guidance but who go above and beyond to create an environment of academic excellence for UCPS students, teachers and staff.

Congratulations to the following 2022-2023 Principal of the Year finalists:

Dr. Tracy Strickland – Parkwood High

Dr. Tracy Strickland has worked for UCPS for 17 years. She began in the district as a high school Spanish teacher at Parkwood High. Later, she served as an assistant principal at East Union Middle, Forest Hills High and Piedmont High. In 2015, she served as principal at Piedmont Middle and the director of student support. Dr. Strickland joined Parkwood High as principal in 2021.

When asked about being a finalist, Dr. Strickland said “I have always admired the people that I think are the greats in Union County. There are principals that I have learned from here that have been Principal of the Year such as Dr. Kevin Plue and Dr. Jonathan Tyson. To even be in the top 10 is something I never expected and am deeply honored.”

Watch Dr. Strickland’s surprise announcement.

Jeff Stout – Cuthbertson High

Jeff Stout has been in the district for 23 years. He began as a math teacher at Sun Valley Middle in 1999. Stout was an assistant principal at Benton Heights and Cuthbertson High before becoming the principal at the school in 2018.

Stout was ushered out to the hallway by staff members and was shocked to see Dr. Houlihan and other leaders standing there. When asked how he felt about being a finalist, Stout said, “I am excited, honored and surprised. This was not what I had on my schedule this morning.”

Watch Stout’s surprise announcement.

Dr. Michael Henderson – Wesley Chapel Elementary

Dr. Michael Henderson has worked in UCPS since 2004. Prior to being the principal at Wesley Chapel, he was the principal at Shiloh Valley Elementary in 2006 and at Wingate Elementary in 2011.

With a look of confusion followed by a smile, Dr. Henderson was excited to see the visitors at his school as he was named a finalist. When asked how he felt about being a finalist, Dr. Henderson said “I am very honored to be recognized as one of the finalists. This was an absolute surprise.”

Watch Dr. Henderson’s surprise announcement.

Emily Kraftson – Weddington Elementary

Emily Kraftson began in UCPS as a tutor at Weddington Elementary in 2009. There she also served as a school counselor and assistant principal before moving to Sandy Ridge Elementary as the assistant principal in 2017. In 2020, Kraftson returned to Weddington Elementary as the principal.

When asked what she enjoyed about being a principal, Kraftson said, “It’s the academic rigor, the parent support, the amazing extracurricular activities. It’s an absolute joy and privilege to work with the high level of instruction that we have going on at our school. It’s a family-oriented, tight-knit community filled with love and support. I’m blown away by the surprise and can’t thank my team enough for being the reason I do what I do. I’m proud of the work they do.”  

Watch Kraftson’s surprise announcement.

Dr. Gina Chisum – Sun Valley Middle

Dr. Gina Chisum began working at UCPS in 2012 as an instructional technology facilitator. She served at Indian Trail Elementary for eight years as the assistant principal in 2014 and the principal in 2017 before moving to Sun Valley Middle this year. Dr. Chisum also participates in the UCPS Literacy Task Force and is a UCPS Leader in Me Liaison.

Dr. Chisum was surprised as she was meeting with a new teacher. When asked what this recognition and being a principal means to her, Dr. Chisum said, “I feel truly humbled. I love what I get to do. There aren’t very many people in life who can say that they can get up every day and go to a building that they love with people that they love, doing a job that they love.”

Watch Dr. Chisum’s surprise announcement.

Dr. Kim Fisenne – Porter Ridge High

Dr. Kim Fisenne has worked for UCPS since 2005. She was an assistant principal at Marvin Ridge High in 2008 and a principal at Central Academy of Technology and Arts in 2013. She has been the principal at Porter Ridge High since 2018. Dr. Fisenne began her education career as a science teacher in a neighboring county and prior to that worked in a research laboratory studying genetics.

When asked what this recognition and being a principal means to her, Dr. Fisenne said “The recognition is not me, it is what our teachers do in the building. Not just our teachers, but our students, too. We are a leadership high school and the kids really focus on leading and making decisions for the school. I’m here to facilitate and shepherd them along. Being a principal is the joy of my life. I love coming to work every day and seeing the students.”

Watch Dr. Fisenne’s surprise announcement.

Dr. Cassie Eley – Piedmont Middle

Dr. Cassie Eley is in her fourth year as principal at Piedmont Middle. She is originally from Union County and graduated from Forest Hills High. Prior to joining Piedmont Middle, Dr. Eley served as principal of third through fifth grades at Walter Bickett Elementary. She also served as an assistant principal at Parkwood High and an English teacher at Forest Hills High.

Dr. Eley was called to the cafeteria where staff and students cheered as she was named a finalist. When asked what this recognition and being a principal means to her, she said, “I love being the principal here. It’s family. After everything we went through with COVID, we’ve grown even closer. Being recognized is really cool, it’s an honor because we have amazing principals in Union County so to be recognized makes me feel special.”

Watch Dr. Eley’s surprise announcement.

Denny Ferguson – New Salem Elementary

Denny Ferguson began with UCPS in 2003 as a teacher at East Union Middle. He was a principal at East Elementary in 2014, Monroe Middle in 2017 and at New Salem since 2019.

The district leadership team surprised Ferguson in the school hallway. When asked what this recognition and being a principal means to him, he said, “I get the opportunity to be a principal with a group of teachers and a solid community that truly embodies wanting our kids to thrive. It’s the best feeling in the world to be able to be a part of everybody working together for the same thing. This recognition honors that partnership.”

Watch Ferguson’s surprise announcement.

Dr. Angela Foster – Marshville Elementary

Dr. Angela Foster is in her third year as principal of Marshville Elementary. She taught at Shiloh Valley and Benton Heights elementary schools. Dr. Foster was the assistant principal at Monroe Middle in 2011 and at East Union Middle in 2017.  

Dr. Foster was called into the cafeteria where students cheered as she was named a finalist. When asked what this recognition and being a principal means to her, she said “This feels amazing because to get here it took a team effort from our parents, students and amazing teachers. I could not be in this position if it were not for the staff.”

Watch Dr. Foster’s surprise announcement.

Dr. Candice Boatright – Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts

Dr. Candice Boatright began in UCPS in 2005 as a teacher at Marvin Elementary. She was a teacher and assistant principal at Parkwood High. She was a principal at Indian Trail Elementary in 2010 until moving to Benton Heights where she has been a principal for six years.

Dr. Boatright graciously accepted the recognition from Dr. Houlihan and the team. When asked about being a finalist, she said “Being a principal at Benton Heights is rewarding. The return on investment keeps me coming in every day. I see growth in students and in staff. Everybody giving it their best all the time. The only reason why I’m this [a finalist] is because of them, they make me be this [a finalist].” 

Watch Dr. Boatright’s surprise announcement.

UCPS Principal of the Year finalists were selected from a pool of 53 principals. The Principal of the Year winner will be announced in October.

Please see the pictures of the finalists in the photo gallery below: