Northwest Cabarrus’ Jolley named county principal of the year

Cabarrus County Schools Principal of the Year Mike Jolley of Northwest Cabarrus High School gets ready to fist bump a student arriving at school.
Cabarrus County Schools Principal of the Year Mike Jolley of Northwest Cabarrus High School gets ready to fist bump a student arriving at school. JOE HABINA

It’s 6:45 a.m. on a dreary Thursday morning, and Mike Jolley is already manning his post as Northwest Cabarrus High School’s biggest cheerleader.

The school day wasn’t five minutes old and Jolley had greeted countless students at the front door of the 49-year-old high school with “good morning,” acknowledged a student’s school spirit with a compliment of her camouflage outfit, and wished a couple of football players well on their home game that night.

But those are probably not the measurable standards by which Jolley was recently named Cabarrus County Principal of the Year.

Or are they?

“I would hope they picked me because of how much I love my job, being at Northwest Cabarrus and working with the students and the staff,” said Jolley, 36, the school’s fifth-year principal. “I would be crushed if that wasn’t evident to everybody. I feel excited every day.”

Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Chris Lowder and assistant superintendent Glenda Jones surprised Jolley with the announcement at a Northwest Cabarrus faculty meeting last month. Jolley is eligible for a regional Wells Fargo Principal of the Year Award that will be announced in February.

A state winner is selected from the regional winners in the spring. The 2016 Wells Fargo Principal of the year receives a $3,000 cash gift for his/her high school and an additional $3,000 for his own personal use.

Cabarrus County Principal of the Year finalists are selected by a vote of the county’s principals. The winner is judged by a panel of former CCS principals of the year and other district administrators.

Tyriq Richardson didn’t have a vote in the selection process, but the Northwest Cabarrus senior feels Jolley is deserving. Richardson said he had a “rough” start to his junior year when he transferred in from Concord High. But Jolley’s persistence of “staying on me” helped him mature and improve as a student.

“He’s a very strong principal,” said Richardson, who plans to either attend college or join the Marine Corps. “He’s very honorable. He’s trustworthy. He doesn’t tolerate too many things. He likes for us to stay on track. He cares about us and our work.”

The son of retired educators Bill and Janice Jolley, Mike Jolley has worked at Northwest Cabarrus in different capacities for at least parts of nine school years. He started as a student teacher in 2001 and later as a social studies teacher.

A Kannapolis A.L. Brown Shrine Bowl football player who graduated in 1997, Jolley completed his undergraduate work as a teaching fellow at Appalachian State. He attended UNC Charlotte as a graduate student and earned his principal’s certification.

Among the Northwest Cabarrus programs Jolley lauds but defers credit (choosing to tout his staff and students rather than his own leadership) are its National Academy of Health Sciences and Biotechnology and blended learning program in which students alternate days with face-time with teachers and online instruction.

Another program making an impact is the Trojan Connect mentor program which targets underclassmen that are at-risk because of poor grades, attendance and other factors. Statistics support its influence.

In 2011, Jolley’s first year as principal, NCHS’s graduation rate was 85.6 percent. Last spring, the school graduated 96.9 percent of its seniors.

Not only is Northwest graduating students but many of them are prepared to tackle secondary education’s higher levels. Of the 240 seniors who graduated last spring, 171 of them received college scholarships totaling $5.2 million.

The success of Northwest’s students can be found in Jolley’s educational philosophy, of which teachers are reminded with every set of faculty meeting notes. He wants to promote a safe environment, nurturing a caring staff, and encouraging engaging instruction from the faculty, that is not wasting any instructional time.

Jolley says educators have been some of his most influential mentors.

In addition to his parents, he credits former A.L. Brown football coach and administrator Bruce Hardin, former Brown Social Studies teacher Mike Safrit, and Keith Rhoney, who was Jolley’s cooperating teacher at Northwest when he performed his student teaching as some of his greatest inspirations.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: