The Sun News

Houston educator gets prestigious elementary principal award

Principal Andrea McGee talks with students and teachers about projects on the front steps of Eagle Springs Elementary School. McGee has been named Georgia’s 2016 National Distinguished Principal.
Principal Andrea McGee talks with students and teachers about projects on the front steps of Eagle Springs Elementary School. McGee has been named Georgia’s 2016 National Distinguished Principal. Special to The Sun News

As a young girl, Andrea McGee knew when she got older she wanted a job where she could have a desk.

But she said when she pulled a desk from the hall of her grandmother’s house to the den to play, she didn’t pretend she was a corporate executive. She dreamed she was surrounded by students and was at her desk grading papers.

“I pulled the desk out and had my pretend classroom,” she said.

Her dream — and more — has come true. McGee’s career as an educator has put her at desks in second and fourth grade classrooms and in offices as an assistant principal and principal.

And now, McGee has been selected by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the U.S. Department of Education as Georgia’s 2016 National Distinguished Principal for work during her 12 years as principal of Houston County’s Eagle Springs Elementary School.

McGee traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 7-8 and was honored along with her peers from other states, plus she was given the opportunity to both share with and learn from them.

Officials said McGee was nominated by fellow school administrators and had to win at county, region and state levels.

“You never think you’re doing anything special,” she said. “You just work day by day to do as good a job as you can for your students, faculty and staff. It’s really to the credit of those I work with and who’ve mentored and inspired me.”

A Warner Robins native, McGee is a 1987 graduate of Warner Robins High School and was a member of the school’s first state champion softball team in 1986.

She said the experience helped her learn the importance of teamwork.

“It carried over into how important I think collaborative teaching is,” she said. “The days of sitting in your own classroom with your own lesson plans and doing everything on your own are passed. It takes a team effort now.”

And it means teachers and administrators don’t spend a lot of time sitting at desks.

And it takes leadership.

Retired Shirley Hills Principal Judy Wagy said she saw leadership in McGee as a classroom teacher and encouraged her to step up to the plate and lead others first as an instructional coordinator then assistant principle.

Wagy gave McGee he first administrative job.

“I was looking for someone who was a strong teacher, who knew curriculum and who — first and foremost — loved their students, all of them,” Wagy said. “Andrea fit the bill perfectly. She’s a very capable, thoughtful and compassionate leader.”

But don’t compassion and getting things done often run counter to one another?

If so, Wagy said that’s not the case with McGee.

“She’s able to put the two together and do a great job balancing it,” she said. “Teachers look to her for leadership as well as camaraderie and support. They know she’s in their corner and in the student’s corner. She’s not afraid to work hard or think outside the box and try new solutions. I love that about her and it’s paid off. I’m just so proud of her.”

Eagle Springs is designated a Title I school. That means there are a large number of students who receive free or reduced-cost lunches, which in turn indicates a particular socio-economic position that can mean lower school performance.

But you wouldn’t know it looking at the signs at the school’s entrance noting accomplishments. It was McGee’s work toward such goals that helped win the award.

For instance, this year Eagle Springs was named a Georgia Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Certified School for programs and student achievement in STEM subjects. For several years running, Eagle Springs has been named a Title I Reward School based on student performance and progress.

Again, McGee credits others.

“I just told a few teachers to come with me to STEM events and once we went, everyone was saying, ‘We can do that!’” she said. “Other teachers got excited and we started coming up with ways to emphasize STEM subjects and make them fun for kids. We worked together to convert our computer lab to a STEM lab that had computers plus resources for science and other projects. We changed the school culture in that area and it paid off. Then it got noticed.”

Another program pairs certified personnel who don’t have a homeroom class as mentors with students who need a little something extra in some area of their school life.

Altogether, that’s leadership that gets things done hand-in-hand with teachers and students and wins awards — even if only a small part happens behind a desk.

Other criteria for the award include working toward goals above and beyond those expected in a school program, being a principal for at least five years, maintaining high expectations of students and staff and outstanding contributions to the school and education profession. Nominees must also be established and respected members of the community.

Other ways McGee accomplished those criteria include her not only being part of Houston County’s principals mentoring principals program, but her being the one who designed the program and leads it. McGee also teaches teachers and administrators in staff development sessions locally and in other counties.

“I’m still a teacher at heart,” she said. “As a principal I’m a lead learner, a leader who keeps learning and searching for ways to better accomplish our goals for students and making their lives and futures better. Our focus is to help all children reach their highest potential and have our staff buy into making sure our kids get what they need.”

Mark Scott, superintendent of Houston County schools, said McGee’s commitment is evident and worth the notice.

“This recognition is well deserved,” he said. “Dr. McGee is the perfect person to represent the elementary school principals in the state of Georgia. Eagle Springs becoming Georgia STEM certified makes it only one of 15 in the state to earn that designation. She’s made tremendous contributions to the education profession and I am very proud of her.”