New principal already making his mark

Matthew Hayes had officially been on the job for less than three weeks when I caught up with him recently, but it was clear he'd already made an imprint as principal at North Mecklenburg High School.

After finding drink containers and other trash in the cafeteria, he encouraged students to take more ownership and pride in their school by picking up after themselves.

He saw students lingering in hallways between classes, which made them late for the next period. So he encouraged teachers to make hallway sweeps so every student, not just the ones in their own classes, would be on time.

Students who show up late are no longer barred from the room. The teacher marks them tardy but lets them in - again at Hayes' behest.

Clean up after yourselves in the cafeteria, get to class on time, and the school may just have a pep rally before a game against rival Hough High, he said.

"They haven't had a pep rally in three years," Hayes said. "They have to step up, showing they value their school.... The first person you have to respect is who you are."

Hayes, meanwhile, has encouraged more instructional collaboration among teachers from different disciplines. That explains why 10th-grade English teacher Kimberly Tuttle used political cartoons in her lesson plan the day I visited. They're a teaching tool more for civics and economics classes.

Until Hayes, 1,700-student North Meck lacked stable leadership this year. Hayes, a 38-year-old Charlotte native, is the fourth principal since the school opened in August.

Joey Burch, principal since 2005, went on leave this fall. When he returns, he'll become principal of another Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school.

Mike Mathews, a CMS human resources executive, was named interim principal after Burch's leave began. But he and assistant principal Joyce Lockhart were suspended with pay in November as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools investigated an unspecified incident that Superintendent Peter Gorman called "a concern."

Charity Bell, who filled in after Mathews was removed, returned to her administrative job overseeing several schools once Hayes came aboard.

He comes to North from the 382-student Olympic School of International Studies and Global Economics in Charlotte, where he drew praise from students, teachers and staff. He had held that job since Olympic High split into five small schools in 2006.

Academic performance improved under his helm, as did individual students and teachers.

"When I came to Global, I was on the wrong track," Olympic student Marquise Moore said. "I had failed ninth grade, I was constantly in trouble, and I didn't see a reason to keep going to school.

"For four years, Hayes kept trying to get me to realize that nobody could determine my future but me. He was the one who got me to step up and take ownership of my education.

"He's the reason that I went from almost dropping out to making the basketball team last year, making the honor roll this semester and getting ready to graduate this spring," Moore said. "Hayes is the reason I'm going to college."

Hayes inspired Stephanie Kelso to change the way she teaches.

"Instead of making excuses for why more of my students were not seeing success, instead of yelling and creating bar charts to show me just how bad of a teacher I am, he taught me how to be a better teacher," she said. "Mr. Hayes helped us create a community of learners, by creating a family."

Hayes described his transition to North Meck as seamless. The week before his official start, he met with school staff. A day later, he met with a teacher, a parent and two students, he said.

Hayes also made a point early on of addressing North Meck's seniors, some of whom were at other CMS high schools last year before attendance boundaries changed with Hough High's opening in Cornelius. "I told them, 'Some of you are from West Charlotte, some of you are from Vance, but you are now a North Meck Viking, and we will create a culture around what it means to be a North Meck Viking.'

"They haven't decided what that is yet, and I'm not a top-down person," Hayes said. "You can't dictate a culture. A culture comes from the people within."

Hayes said he doesn't even like talking about himself.

"I talk about students, what teachers are doing," he said. "They are the heart and soul of the school. I am just the facilitator." Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.