Earlier this month, West Stokes principal Tony George was named the Bob Deaton Principal of the Year by the NC High School Athletic Association.
Currently in his third year as principal at West Stokes, George says the accolade is the second greatest award he’s received during his administrative career. In 2006, former governor Mike Easley presented George with the Laurel Wreath Award while he was serving as principal at Starmount High School.
George deflected praise for his most recent accolade, saying all the credit should go to the assistant principals, faculty and students at West Stokes.
“Without the faculty, and my two assistant principals [Rhonda Jackson and Steven Hall] and the students at this school, we could not have any of the success we’ve had,” George said.
When he arrived at the school three years ago, George said he tried to instill four elements into the school’s culture — learning, living, laughter, and togetherness.
As the school’s leader, George said he has tried to create an atmosphere that places student achievement as a top priority. As George transitioned into his new role, he was pleasantly surprised at how the faculty, students and his support staff “bought in” to his leadership philosophy.
“My goal is, if we can come in here and get people to buy into what we do and put the students first, try to treat everybody fair and consistent, then we’re going to have a good situation,” he said. “That’s the way we run this school — it’s a team effort. It’s the students, the faculty and the administration.”
A Mount Airy High School graduate, George earned a basketball scholarship to Pfeiffer University. He coached at Mount Airy High School from 1983 to 1997, coaching basketball and assisting in football. His teams won three conference titles and four conference tournament titles before he moved into administration in 2001. George’s wife, Sandy, currently serves as the principal at Mount Airy.
“I coached at Mount Airy High School with [former Granite Bears head football coach] Jerry Hollingsworth who has probably the greatest morals and values of anyone I’ve ever been around,” George said. “I played for [former Mount Airy head basketball coach] Jim Wilmoth, who taught me a lot of things, but my mentor and the person who probably has taught me the most about life is my college basketball coach, Tommy Childress, and my wife, Sandy George.”
George said his former coaches and mentors taught him that leadership in education consists of three qualities — being fair, being consistent and letting your students and student-athletes know how much you care.
George said he understands the importance of academic testing to measure a school’s progress but he believes the real test of a school’s culture is how graduates fare beyond high school.
“We’re a stepping stone for these kids,” George said. “We send them out into the real world, into one of four places — the workplace, the armed forces, community college, or a four-year college. That’s our goal — we want to send them to those four places and we want them to have success. And when these kids have success, we’ve had success. That’s how you judge your school.”
George said his greatest hope for each West Stokes graduate is for them to achieve success in the world and to look back upon their high school experience with a deep sense of gratitude and a bit of nostalgia.
“My goal is for each kid, when they leave this school and they’re sitting at college or in the workplace, when other people are talking about their high schools, I want them to look people in the eye, and say, ‘If I had one wish, I would go back to West Stokes High School, be a senior and have Tony George as my principal.’”