Now, she's the boss
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 25, 2011 1:50 AM
Goldsboro High School Principal Tonya Faison smiles while walking down one of the school's hallways. This is Ms. Faison's first year as principal at the school. She taught there as a teacher in the early 1990s and vowed to return as its principal.
As the bell rang signaling the change of classes Thursday, students spilled out into the hallways.
Tonya Faison marched into the main office of Goldsboro High School, hair pulled back into a ponytail and dressed in a camouflage ROTC uniform.
At first glance, she appeared to be just another student -- except for the portable radio in her hand and the nametag on the uniform pocket -- "Principal."
"I'm a non-traditional principal," she said, unapologetic about her choice of clothing for the day. "I have been waiting all year to wear this, to dress with the drill team. They were real excited to see that I would be dressed like them."
The petite 41-year-old could pass for a high schooler, but make no mistake, she is in charge of that school.
As she often tells students, "I might be (small) in size but I'm big in stature. Do not mess with me."
She handles all discipline matters at the school herself, she says, "so there's no way around me."
The job of principal is not always an enviable one, especially at the school that has battled perception problems for years, narrowly missing closure by a state judge, and then last spring, just weeks before graduation, came under fire amid reports that only a fraction of the seniors had completed graduation projects.
Ms. Faison takes it all in stride, holding the same opinion of the school as when she taught business education there from 1998 until 2005.
"I was Teacher of the Year (for the school) when I left, and I came back in May 2006 to address the National Honor Society. I told them that I would be back as principal of GHS."
She mentioned that on more than one occasion to Dr. Steve Taylor, schools superintendent. But for whatever reason, it wasn't the right time, she said.
Ms. Faison honed her administrative skills in other areas, serving as assistant principal at Norwayne Middle and Spring Creek Elementary schools before working at the central office.
She remains grateful to the superintendent for making that call for her to take over as principal this year.
"Ain't nobody knocking down the door to be principal at GHS, but I was," she said. "People that knew me when I first started teaching have asked, 'If you could be a principal of any school, which would it be?' I said, 'Goldsboro High School.' People have asked, 'Are you joking?'
"But I like challenges. I don't run from a challenge. To me they make you a better person, a strong person. It might not be easy but you can learn from it."
Ms. Faison approached the job head on, immediately tackling some of the most glaring issues at the school. She said she "laid it on the line" what her expectations were, especially for incoming seniors she knew would have to complete that graduation project.
"I told them, 'I know that for some of y'all I'm the third principal in three years,'" she said. "I gave them my expectations, how I wanted to come back and be the principal. I talked about goals, what my goals were for them -- come to school every day, because if you're not here, you can't learn; pay attention.
"I made it very clear that you cannot graduate from Wayne County Public Schools if you do not do the senior projects. Everyone has to do them. I explained that in order to finish their senior project, they had to come to school, they had to ask questions."
So obvious is her passion for the school that many are surprised to learn she did not graduate from there. But the Petersburg, Va., native said it is her own background that most equipped her to do the job.
"My background growing up is very similar to these kids -- single-parent family, mom and grandparents," she said. "I used to get in trouble, got suspended all the way up until high school. It took a teacher asking me what I was going to do with my life, 'Are you going to keep fighting?' We were on welfare, Salvation Army assistance."
She decided to make some changes.
"I decided to go to school every day," she said. "I graduated with honors from high school. So these students, there's nothing that they do as far as classroom discipline and stuff that surprises me."
As administrator, she has made it her mission to change the culture of Goldsboro High.
"This school, it's going to take doing some things differently," she said. "I'm not saying it's a bad school. Every school has its own culture, its own makeup. ...
"It's not like Goldsboro got into this position overnight. So no one should think it's going to change overnight. You have got to put the right people in place, the right things in place, have the right energy, get the right support, which I do have at the Central Office."
She has introduced a Cougar Enrichment period, for an hour each day, where students either receive remediation or work on senior projects. Teachers not assigned in a tested area are also required to assist.
Students have risen to the occasion, she noted.
"There are 66 students in senior English this semester. Fifty have passed and presented their student (graduation projects)," she said. "Eight of those 50 did them in summer school."
With 105 seniors, plus an additional seven juniors eligible for early graduation, making it a graduating class of 112, that means more than half are well ahead of schedule, she said.
"And we do have one sophomore that has presented her project," Ms. Faison said. "If you've got students with the capacity to get their projects done their sophomore or junior year, then we're going to let them do it because it's one less thing they have to do in their senior year."
Staff and teachers have worked diligently to support her and the students, she said. Her biggest challenge, she noted, has been "recapturing the school," to position it where she knows it can go.
Overcoming public perception, instilling pride in the students is tantamount, she says.
"I want so many things, like the whole sense of Cougar pride," she said. "Yeah, test scores, all that is important, but if you can't get that sense of pride in them, they're not going to get to the test scores. ...
"If every student walks out of here in June, their head held high, they have that swagger, success can't always be measured by test scores, discipline reports. Sometimes success has just got to be about the whole attitude and how students carry themselves."
It's a philosophy that has to start first at home, says the mother of two, Brandon, 13, and Bria, 9.
"I believe that you can plant seeds in other children and then your children can reap from it," she said. "I treat these children just like I treat my children."