Withers joins regional winners in going for top principal
By Sarah Campbell
CHINA GROVE — Principal Kelly Withers became the queen of Carson High School on Wednesday when seniors Angela Talerico and Will Douglas placed a shiny crown on her head, hung a flower lei around her neck and draped a bright orange cape across her shoulders.
But these days, Withers isn’t just the queen of Carson, her reign extends throughout the region.
And what exactly gives Withers royal standing?
First, she was named the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s Principal of the Year; now she’s won the title of Northwest Region Principal of the Year.
“Of course I was shocked, but very excited,” Withers said. “It’s a great opportunity to represent the district.”
Carson students gathered in the school’s atrium Wednesday morning, dropping dozens of orange balloons from the top level and cheering enthusiastically as Assistant Principal Catherine Hinson announced the award.
They rolled out the school’s banner and cued the band to complete the surprise.
“It means a great deal that they’re here to enjoy this with me,” Withers said. “The students are why we’re here.”
Douglas said Withers goes above and beyond her duties, including taking time out to write him recommendations for college.
“She didn’t have to do that, but she didn’t mind,” he said. “She always seems very busy, but she always finds the time for students.”
Talerico said students are responsive to Withers’ outgoing personality.
“She bends over backwards to do things for other people,” she said. “We are all very happy for her because she deserves this.”
Sophomore Sadie Sicuro said Withers is very considerate, making sure students come first.
“I think if anybody deserves this, she does,” she said.
Withers’ family — husband Lee, 8-year-old son Carson, and twin 4-year-old daughters Campbell and Cailynn — also traveled to the school to celebrate the occasion.
“It’s amazing,” Lee Withers said of his wife’s win. “I think it’s humbling for her because she doesn’t expect any of this. She just goes to work and does her job every day.”
Lee Withers said it’s a joke among family members that Kelly doesn’t just have three kids, she has 1,300.
“You know there is one reason she gets up every morning and comes here, and that’s for the kids,” he said. “To get rewarded for that is very humbling.”
Withers began her career in public education when she left her job in medical technology at Rowan Regional Medical Center to become a lateral entry biology teacher at West Rowan High.
When Principal Henry Kluttz left West to open Carson High, Withers was the first person he hired to work with him as an administrator.
“I’m not surprised at all, because she is very, very good. She’s tops,” Kluttz said Wednesday of Withers being named regional principal of the year. “I’m excited for her and the school. This whole community is pretty fortunate to have her.”
When Kluttz announced his retirement, his assistant principal for four years applied to take over the top spot at the school.
She tooks the reins in July 2010.
Carson met Adequate Yearly Progress, the reading and mathematics accountability standard required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, last year under Withers’ leadership.
Withers’ “student first” motto has helped her bring up the school’s graduation rate, which jumped 10 points to nearly 87 percent in 2011.
“Mrs. Withers does a tremendous job at Carson and she continues to represent the system well,” Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said in a press release. “She truly cares and reaches out to each and every student and staff member at Carson.
“Kelly is an excellent model of principal leadership. I am very excited for Kelly, for Carson and for our school district.”
Withers will join seven other regional winners to compete for the state principal of the year, which will be announced April 5. A state selection committee will review each candidate’s portfolios and visit their campuses.
As the Northwest Region Principal of the Year, Withers will receive $1,000 for personal use and $1,000 for Carson.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.