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Q&A | Dr. Shameka Joyner, Pine Forest Middle School

N.C.'s Assistant Principal of the Year says being an effective administrator starts with being an effective teacher


Dr. Shameka Joyner, an assistant principal at Pine Forest Middle School, was recently selected as the 2024 North Carolina Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year by the North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals' Association.

Joyner, a Fayetteville native, has spent the majority of her youth and adulthood years dedicating herself to the Cumberland and Hoke communities. A graduate of E.E. Smith and Fayetteville State University, she began her teaching career in 2008. In addition to her work as Assistant Principal of Pine Forest Middle School. Joyner serves as a volunteer on the Murchison Choice Plan Neighborhood Committee, working to create a forward-looking Transformation Plan with a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion.

She is the founder of Dr. Joyner's Afterschool Homework Center, with the intent of advocating for at-risk students and families, and works as a volunteer educational consultant and summer camp tutor for Better Beginnings Healthcare Solutions. She’s also in the process of creating a nonprofit organization to help prepare young African American males for the SAT and ACT tests and college.

Joyner  spoke with CityView's Bill Horner III about her recent honor and her work in Cumberland County.


First, congratulations on your selection as the 2024 North Carolina Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year. What does the honor mean to you?

This honor means everything to me. It has given me the confidence and assurance that all of the years of hard work and dedication to our children and schools have not been in vain. The work as an effective administrator begins with being an effective teacher. This honor has also increased my faith in the future of our students and empowered me to continue serving in this manner. It shows that there are organizations in N.C. that value our N.C. schools and administrators. 

Superintendents and principals and their roles, by virtue of their positions, are pretty familiar to most of us. What does your role and job as an assistant superintendent entail, and in what key ways do you contribute to what happens at Pine Forest Middle School?

As an assistant principal, my role is to support my principal, teachers and students daily. It is what I deem most important: ensuring that we have a safe and orderly environment and that students are exposed to a high-quality education. 

In doing so, I partner with parents/guardians to support their goals and aspirations for their children. I contribute to Pine Forest Middle School by providing excellent customer service to our student body, teachers and families. The customer service provided comes in many forms: a returned call, a listening ear, a problem-solver, and sometimes a teacher. It is based on the needs of those whom I serve.

You were recognized for exemplary leadership skills and educational expertise. Share with us how you developed those skills, and how you’ve utilized them during your career.

Although I wanted to be a teacher from the young age of 5 and often practiced by teaching my teddy bears, the skills I possess were developed over time through my experiences. 

I started my teaching career as a substitute teacher for Cumberland County Schools right after graduating from high school. After graduating from Fayetteville State University, I began teaching English at Westover High School and also taught at Bal Perazim Christian Academy for many years before transferring back to public school. 

Servanthood, passion and honor are something that I implemented and modeled for my students, even before becoming an assistant principal. As an advocate for literacy and reading, I also taught night classes at Fayetteville Technical Community College for students trying to obtain their high school diploma or GED. 

This was a meaningful experience — it gave me compassion and insight into how to serve those who may have had a difficult time in life, leading to a gap in their education. Although I have acquired and earned many educational degrees and certificates, I would say my passion, servanthood, and love for children and teaching have brought me the most meaningful outcomes. I utilize the skills and knowledge I have developed by serving my school district and my community in any way that best promotes the holistic success of our CCS students.  

What are some of the biggest challenges middle schoolers face, and how do you go about helping them navigate those challenges?

Middle schoolers often face issues in finding out who they truly are and what they want in life. Adolescents are often dealing with puberty, acceptance and self-esteem during this time. I assist them by encouraging them not to fit into the latest trend or topic on social media, but to be a leader and confident in knowing that I am proud of them and support their success in life. When students make a mistake or bad decision, I often like to meet with both the student and parent as an advocate for their path to success, and to assure their parents that these are "typical middle school" experiences.  

What do you think makes Pine Forest unique compared to other schools in Cumberland County/other schools where you've worked?

Pine Forest is a great school. One of the many attributes we have here is parent and community support. I value that. Teachers can't do the work alone. It takes all of us coming together to make decisions that are best for children.

What do you believe is a common misconception about your job?

A common misconception about assistant principals is that most of our work is done in the office and we have much more time than an average teacher because we are no longer confined to the classroom. 

This is false. Much of my time is spent in classrooms. We are still supporting and leading the work that happens in the classrooms, but it is on a much broader spectrum. There are many days when I come to work planning to do one task, but another task (which is more urgent or pressing) is presented before me, and I am flexible and willing enough to do what is needed.

It's no secret that schools are struggling to retain and hire teachers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. How have you been tackling this problem, and is there anything you wish you'd done differently?

The biggest lesson learned over the course of the pandemic is that teachers want to be heard and supported. This is how I support my principal and school in retaining teachers: by supporting and listening to the needs of our teachers. I enjoy providing professional development for teachers on effective instructional strategies, classroom management, and parent engagement.

I consider teaching an honorable profession and understand how hard it can be to recruit and retain teachers. However, it does require one to be dedicated and vested in our children. I support teachers in meeting the expectations that the job requires by sharing and modeling to them what has brought me the most success in my career. In all fairness, I also do not ask teachers to perform any task that I am not willing to do or help them do for our students.

You’ll join other state winners and represent North Carolina in Washington, D.C., for an event for a few days in April (when you’ll find out if you’re the national winner), and then you’ll also attend the 2024 National Principals Conference in Nashville, in Tennessee, in July. What do you look forward to most about these two events?

I look forward to the collaboration with other professionals from different states. I feel that I will be able to learn something valuable from this experience, as well as contribute to the learning experience of others by sharing my experiences. 

Is becoming a principal a goal for you? If so, how would you like for your team to describe the school that you lead?

Yes, I desire to be a principal. 

I would like for our team to describe the school I lead as a dynamic learning environment where all stakeholders are involved in the continuous growth and improvement of our school. My team would express that students are thriving and excelling, becoming college, career and life-ready as evidenced in our school performance grade and stakeholder feedback. Parents, teachers and students would share how the classrooms are engaging, innovative and student-driven. Our custodians and support staff would describe our working environment as safe and clean, and express value in our professional working standards and the school's administrative support for all employees. Students would express how they are grateful to have teachers, administrators and staff who care about their well-being and show a continued interest in their success.

shakeka joyner Pine Forest Middle School principal honor teacher education students cumberland