Emily Miles, Sterling Elementary principal, is the CMS principal of the year

Principal of Pineville’s Sterling Elementary School is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools principal of the year.
Principal of Pineville’s Sterling Elementary School is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools principal of the year.

For Emily Miles, the principal at Sterling Elementary, there’s one word she hopes her students will remember in their time under her watch: believe.

“Believe in me, believe in you, believe in us,” the Sterling Elementary principal loves to say. It’s what she calls the “Tiger Creed,” a reference to the school’s mascot.

As she walked into a packed auditorium on Monday morning to the surprise announcement that she is the 2019 Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Principal of the Year, she saw that idea reflected in the signs her students held up to congratulate her. She said she was incredibly moved to see “believe” written on almost every poster.

“You say things, and sometimes you wonder if they’re listening,” she said. “But that tells me that I’m sending that message out there, that I believe in them, and that as long as they believe in themselves too, they’re going to grow up to do wonderful things.”

Miles was chosen as Principal of the Year from six nominees. This is her third year as the principal at Sterling Elementary in Pineville, where she served as a literacy coordinator from 2008 to 2013. Prior to that, she taught for five years.

Before becoming principal at Sterling, Miles left the school for a period to be principal at Montclaire Elementary.

Miles, a native of Syracuse, NY, moved to Charlotte as an undergraduate student at UNC-Charlotte. She originally wanted to study computer science, but had a change of heart before pursuing literacy and school administration master’s degrees from Queens University and a doctorate from Wingate University.

At Monday’s ceremony, Superintendent Earnest Winston praised her dedication to each student and to developing her staff, as well as her energy and enthusiasm.

“When I asked some of your teachers, ‘What’s one word they would use to describe you,’ they said zesty,” Winston said to laughter and applause. “They said she’s a problem solver, that she makes it happen for kids and adults.”

Sterling enrolls about 700 students from pre-K through fifth grade, many of whom are bilingual, Miles said. About half of the school’s teachers are in their first three years. The school is a Master Mentor school, where teachers have monthly professional development sessions and where other schools send their staff to observe and learn.

Returning to Sterling was a special moment for Miles, who praised the staff’s dedication to students. Her youngest son is enrolled in pre-K at Sterling.

“That is how much I believe in this school,” she said. “I send my own child here.”