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2024-2025 Principal of the Year finalists announced

On March 4, Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan and other district leaders surprised the Principal of the Year finalists at their respective schools. In the blink of an eye, the calm routines of the day transformed into a vibrant energy. As the team swept through the hallways, catching principals off guard, shock, emotion and excitement lit up the faces of those caught in the whirlwind. 

These finalists were selected from a talented group of school leaders district-wide who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership, innovation and dedication to their communities.

Successful school leaders understand the importance of building community, collaboration and empowering others to achieve their goals. The 10 finalists encompass these characteristics and are being honored for their focus on student achievement and commitment to creating a positive school culture.

One finalist will be named the 2024-2025 Principal of the Year during an awards program on May 9.

"Today was an extraordinary day as I had the honor of surprising 10 remarkable finalists for Principal of the Year. Their dedication, innovation, and passion for education are truly inspiring. Congratulations to these outstanding leaders who are shaping the future of our schools and communities," said Houlihan.

Congratulations to the following Principal of the Year finalists:

Dr. Candice Boatright - Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts
Dr. Candice Boatright has been the principal of Benton Heights Elementary since 2017. With a career spanning over a decade within UCPS, she brings a wealth of experience, having served as a teacher at Marvin Elementary and Parkwood High School before assuming roles as assistant principal and later principal at Indian Trail Elementary. She encourages an inclusive, collaborative and innovative school environment, prioritizing close relationships with students, parents and the community. Dr. Boatright holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Winthrop University and Wingate University. 

"I give my leadership away to others by growing other leaders. Our staff works together to create a team approach. I also get to know the students by learning their names and celebrating their achievements with them."

Kevin Beals - Central Academy of Technology and Arts (CATA)
Kevin Beals has served as the principal at CATA since 2022. Beals has more than 30 years of experience in education. He taught middle school and special education students for 11 years in New Hampshire before moving to Union County. Continuing his teaching career at Sun Valley Middle, Beals transitioned to assistant principal in 2011. Later, he assumed the principal position at Sardis Elementary after serving as an assistant principal and interim. Beals holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire and Rivier College. 

"Leadership is all about relationships; they truly matter. I'm blessed to be at a school with a tremendous staff and students. We have so many students with unique talents. Our goal is to support them in exploring and developing their strengths. By nurturing their abilities, we empower them to excel in whatever they do."

Catherine Perry - Cuthbertson Middle
Catherine Perry has been the principal of Cuthbertson Middle since 2022. Perry is a native of central New Jersey. Her career led her through various roles, from teaching different grades to assuming administrative positions. She progressed from teaching to assistant principal to principal at New Town Elementary. Perry stresses community involvement to support student learning and strengthen school-home partnerships. Perry holds degrees from Saint Peter's College and Kean University.

"I work hard to connect with my students, staff and the parents in the community every day. I hope to be able to put myself in their shoes and understand their experiences, perceptions and opinions, so we can infuse that into our daily leadership to make student-centered decisions."

Adrien Porter - Forest Hills High
Adrien Porter has been the principal at Forest Hills High since 2023. He previously served as principal of Union County Early College. With 22 years of experience in education, all within UCPS, he has held roles ranging from business teacher to assistant principal at Forest Hills High. As a classroom teacher, Porter was awarded teacher of the year at Forest Hills High School and named a Career and Technical Education Unsung Hero. As an administrator, he has been a part of numerous initiatives that have positively impacted teaching and learning. Porter holds degrees from South Carolina State University and the University of Phoenix.

"I am personable with staff, students and the community. I believe in leading by example and building good and strong relationships. I try to have an open line of communication. I am hands-on with the students and want them to know I am another person in the building supporting them."

Kristi Williford - Porter Ridge Elementary
Kristi Williford has been the principal at Porter Ridge Elementary since 2023. Williford began her career in Cabarrus County as a math teacher before transitioning into administration. With four years as an assistant principal and five years as a principal in that county, she joined UCPS in 2012 as an assistant principal at Western Union Elementary, later becoming principal in 2013. In her career, she has been committed to creating innovative learning spaces and improving academic success. Williford holds degrees from Appalachian State University.

"I build relationships with students, staff and parents. It's the number one thing you have to do to lead effectively and make a change. People have to know you are doing the work with them."

Dr. Brian Patience – Porter Ridge Middle
Dr. Brian Patience has been the principal at Porter Ridge Middle since 2015. He served as an assistant principal at the school for several years before becoming principal. Before becoming a part of the Porter Ridge community, Dr. Patience served as an assistant principal at Monroe High and Weddington High for two years each. He started his educational career as a math teacher at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Dr. Patience holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the State University of New York.

"Being an effective principal depends on the quality of the staff you work with daily. It involves ensuring they understand the school's vision and actively seeking their feedback. You need to develop things together, not in isolation."

Cathy Haney - Rocky River Elementary
Cathy Haney has been the principal of Rocky River Elementary since 2021. Haney has been in education since 1998 and is committed to building growth. Haney believes in cultivating meaningful relationships with students, staff and partners, approaching challenges with a solution-oriented mindset. She finds inspiration in the students, who teach her invaluable lessons through their natural curiosity, resilience and joy. Haney holds degrees from Fairmont State University and the University of Kansas. 

"I am very lucky to work with people that I highly respect. My approach to leadership reflects those I surround myself with; it's a team approach. Keeping students motivated is all about being authentic with them. I say hello to every student that walks through the door by name."

Kelly Frycz - Sardis Elementary
Kelly Frycz has been the principal of Sardis Elementary since 2022. Frycz worked as a teacher and math curriculum coach at Wingate Elementary before joining Sardis Elementary as a curriculum and instructional coach in 2014. She later taught math and STEM at Cabarrus County Schools and returned to UCPS in 2018 as an assistant principal. Frycz holds degrees from Bethany College, Point Park University and Wingate University.

"I believe in putting students and staff first. It's all about servant leadership. Leading involves ensuring students' safety, happiness, passions, and creativity flourish while supporting teachers. I am always in classrooms and sometimes work with students. It's about remaining visible and knowing each person."

Dr. Mike Henderson – Wesley Chapel Elementary
Dr. Mike Henderson has been the principal at Wesley Chapel Elementary since 2017. He worked as a teacher at a school in Malawi in southeastern Africa, where he trained adults with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Henderson then returned to the United States and taught at elementary and middle schools in Charlotte before becoming an assistant principal at Porter Ridge Elementary. He later served as the principal at Shiloh Elementary and Wingate Elementary. Dr. Henderson holds degrees from Edinboro University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Wingate University. 

"I value everyone's opinion in our building and our stakeholders, too. I rely on them to help me make decisions. I do everything I can to ensure our students have someone they can connect and feel safe with." 

Patricia Daniels - Wolfe School
Patricia Daniels joined UCPS in 2021 as a teacher at Wolfe School, later becoming the principal in 2022. With almost 30 years of experience working with students with disabilities, Daniels believes every student has a voice. She has devoted her career to achieving positive outcomes for students with unique needs and is known for her ability to create supportive environments where students and staff flourish. Daniels holds degrees from St. Joseph’s College and Long Island University. 

"I prioritize listening to my students, staff, and families to create a sense of community within the school. It's important to me that everyone feels heard and valued."