South Charlotte

Meeting Hawk Ridge Elementary’s new principal

When Mike Drye learned that former Hawk Ridge Elementary School principal Troy Moore was leaving, he had two thoughts: “Where is Troy going?”

And, “I want that school.”

Drye, 48, has worked in education his entire career. He has taught in high schools and middle schools and served as principal of public schools in Union and Mecklenburg counties.

Most recently, Drye was principal of Garinger High School, where he took the job in 2013 after three years leading Nathaniel Alexander Elementary. Garinger was his fifth principalship, and Drye said he had begun thinking about “the final job,” the place he wanted to finish his career.

He had long been interested in balanced literacy, a teaching strategy that employs elements such as reading and writing workshops, and he had visited Hawk Ridge Elementary to see balanced literacy in action.

I got into education because I had wonderful experiences in school growing up.

Mike Drye, principal at Hawk Ridge Elementary School

Along with its established balanced literacy program, Moore had introduced other innovative programs such as the Personalized Learning Initiative, redesigned classrooms and a set daily time called “Genius Hour” during which students could pursue their own learning interests.

When Moore left Hawk Ridge for a job in California, he stated in his resignation letter that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark had told him she was committed to continuing the Personalized Learning Initiative at Hawk Ridge.

“He knows instruction,” said Lauren Fowler, who worked under Drye at Nathaniel Alexander and is now principal of the school. “He knows what it takes to teach children to read effectively. He is strong at setting up strong systems and processes within a school to maximize effectiveness and efficiency.”

Drye grew up in Union County and attended Marshville Elementary, East Union Middle School and Forest Hills High School, where he played on the 1984 state championship football team.

“I got into education because I had wonderful experiences in school growing up,” he said. “I loved history, and I had some very, very inspiring teachers.”

He thought it would be a “pretty nice life” teaching history, working with kids and working with the sports he loved.

He started his college career at Wingate University, where he played football. He laughed while remembering his realization that “everyone on the line was 6-foot-5 and I was 6-foot.” The size difference, he said, prompted him to concentrate on academics rather than football.

He transferred to Appalachian State University, where he earned degrees in history and education. He began his teaching career in Anson County and then taught at schools in Union County.

After about six years in education, he developed an interest in leadership and applied for the N.C. Principals Fellow program, which provides merit-based scholarships to earn a master’s degree at a University of North Carolina school. Drye completed a one-year, full-time internship through UNC Charlotte.

“I’ve always been interested in innovation and high achievement and doing the best I could as an educator,” Drye said. “As an administrator, I could affect so much more change at a larger scale. It was a natural fit.”

His first principalship was at New Salem Elementary in Union County, where he said he discovered that “elementary is where so much of what we do in education happens. It’s where it happens first, and quite frequently, where it happens best. It’s the foundation for everything students will do after.”

He liked the school’s reputation for “cutting-edge curriculum and instruction, learning and teaching,” and the school’s commitment to individualized learning and the development of the whole child.

The school also was known for fine academics, a supportive community and great parents and partnerships, he said.

“It was just something I wanted to be part of,” he said.

Drye has spent the first weeks of school “looking, listening, absorbing” and making himself available to meet with Hawk Ridge stakeholders. He is working with an unexpected influx of kindergarten students and ongoing uncertainty about the state’s allocation of resources for public schools.

“This is where I want to be,” he said.

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: