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New Century’s McEachern, E.E. Smith’s Williams named top school administrators

Cumberland system announces principal, assistant principal honors


Leaders at 10 elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools were in the running for Cumberland County Schools Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year awards.

On Monday evening Gemette McEachern and Kenneth Williams took the honors.

McEachern, 43, who is in her third year as principal of New Century International Middle School, was named 2023 Principal of the Year. Before that, she was principal at William H. Owen Elementary School.

McEachern won the award in a field of nine nominees.

Williams, 46, is in his fourth year as assistant principal at E.E. Smith High School. He was honored as 2023 Assistant Principal of the Year.

Williams also was among a field of nine candidates.

McEachern and Williams’ selections were announced in front of more than 200 educators and school staff members in the Richard M. Wiggins Conference Center at Embassy Suites Fayetteville-Fort Bragg.

The celebration — with men and women dressed in their formal finery — was held for the first time in person since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“It is a highlight of my administrative career, especially being that I feel I’m still in the honeymoon stages,” McEachern said after the ceremony. “It means a lot.”

She is recognized as having led her school with open communication and mutual trust and respect, according to a school district news release.

McEachern has taken the time to get to know her staff, students and their families, the release said. Once she became New Century’s principal, McEachern “spent time listening to their needs, asking questions and learning about what’s important in the community,” the release said.

By focusing on students' learning and school improvement, she said, “We have been successful in involving the entirety of the community.”

She said from the podium that if she were to leave some words of encouragement to her fellow principals, it would be this:

“The other morning, I was taking my kids — we were driving to school,” McEachern said. “We were praying, and my son, after I finished my prayer, said, ‘Mama, I really feel sorry for you.’ And I said, ‘V.J., why do you feel sorry for me?’ He said, ‘Because you have to deal with so much in the school with these kids. It’s just a lot.’

“And so, my daughter intervenes and says, ‘Well, I don’t feel sorry for you.’ And so, I turned around and looked at her, and V.J. looked at her. I said, ‘Erin, that is mean.’ She said, ‘But I don’t feel sorry for you. Because Mama, you can handle it.’”

That was met with a stream of oohhs and aahhs from the crowd.

“I want to say this to all my principal colleagues: I know that it’s rough right now. I know it’s tough," she continued. "I know it’s hard dealing with the discipline of my students with the parents, the district responsibilities coming down. But I want to say this to you today, what my daughter said to me: You can handle it. So, when I’m facing difficult situations throughout the day, I remember what my daughter tells me. I leave that with you tonight.”

McEachern, who has been in the education field for more than 19 years, will now advance to compete for the Sandhills Regional Principal of the Year title.

As Principal of the Year, she received, among other items, a trophy award, flowers, a commemorative and custom CCS Principal of the Year ring, season tickets to Fayetteville Marksmen hockey games, $2,000 for school use and another $1,000 for personal use.

Williams said it is a real honor to be named Assistant Principal of the Year in the school district.

“And you’re receiving something that was selected by your peers,” he said after the ceremony. “You always hope that others see and respect what you do. It’s just great. You really get a chance with all the kids that I help.”

Williams has been an educator for 25 years, moving up the ranks from teacher’s assistant to teacher to instructional coach to assistant principal. He has held his current position since 2019.

Williams "works hard to facilitate a dynamic learning environment," the school system news release said.

He led the initiative to build four specialized technology labs, including an aeronautics lab that serves as the hub for drone technology and aviation science classes at E.E. Smith High School.

Among other things, Williams received a trophy award, a plant and a rolling desk, as well as $200 for personal use.

Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. thanked the administrators for their leadership and dedication.

“Every day, you continue to work hard and remain committed to our district’s vision and well-being of our students,” Connelly said. “I am proud of the great work that has been done, and you should be proud, too. Thanks to your leadership, our schools are continuing traditions of excellence while adapting and preparing for the future. Looking forward, we are ready to conquer whatever the future may bring.”

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Cumberland County, Fayetteville, schools, education