NC State Wins $4.7 Million Grant to Expand Rural School Leadership Program

Principal Yolanda Wiggins
Principals like Yolanda Wiggins, who leads Winstead Avenue Elementary in Rocky Mount, got their start through NC State’s North East Leadership Program, which will expand with a $4.7 million federal grant.

North Carolina State University will use a $4.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand its efforts to train principals and assistant principals for hard-to-staff school districts in the northeastern region of the state.

Thirteen districts will benefit from an expanded North East Leadership Academy (NELA), which offers specialized instruction in school administration, a weeklong summer institute and expert executive coaches for principals.

“It’s hard to attract and retain leaders in areas where you have geographic isolation, high poverty rates and low-performing schools. You have to build your own leadership team,” said Dr. Bonnie Fusarelli, associate professor in the College of Education and principal investigator for the grant.

“There’s a critical need in this region, and it’s a part of NC State’s mission as a land-grant university to reach out to schools in historically underserved areas.”

The grant will allow NELA, which began in 2010, to enroll two new cohorts of 15 educators each in a two-year curriculum. NELA graduates complete a yearlong internship, earn a master’s degree in school administration and agree to work in one of 13 northeastern school districts for three years after completing the program. NELA 2.0 will include a new component on school leadership in a digital learning environment.

“NELA allows a district like ours in eastern North Carolina to build leadership capacity,” said Dr. Anthony Jackson, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools. “We’re the winners from expansion of a great program model.”

In all, Fusarelli aims to reach 100 principals through in-depth training and specialized sessions over the next five years, when the need for school leaders in the region is expected to spike.

“Fifty percent of principals in these districts will be eligible for retirement over the course of the grant, so there’s a pressing need to have leaders in the pipeline,” she said.

The 13 participating districts for NELA are Warren, Bertie, Hertford, Northampton, Roanoke Rapids, Halifax, Weldon City, Martin, Franklin, Edgecombe, Vance, Nash-Rocky Mount and Granville.

To learn more about how the NELA program works, watch the short video at and read the story of  Yolanda Wiggins, principal of Winstead Avenue Elementary in Rocky Mount.


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