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2020-2021 Principal of the Year, Lisa Duffey

Lisa Duffey, 2020-2021 Principal of the Year.

J.R. Ingram, Jr. Elementary School Principal Lisa Duffey, Lee County Schools 2020-2021 Principal of the Year.

SANFORD — It’s not every day a principal walks out of her school to a crowd of chanting and cheering staff, even during a normal, non-pandemic school year.

When J.R. Ingram, Jr. Elementary School’s principal, Lisa Duffey, stepped outside of the building on October 19 after school had ended for the day, she certainly didn’t expect to be thrust into the spotlight.

“I was so genuinely surprised and it took me a moment to process what was happening,” she said. “[Superintendent] Dr. Bryan stepped out and I was so touched by that moment of being surrounded by our amazing team of educators. Most know that I would much rather someone else be in the spotlight than myself but being in that circle of love was a very special and touching moment for me.”

Even during the announcement, Duffey noted how receiving principal of the year wouldn’t have been possible without her amazing staff.

Duffey receiving her award with her staff clapping and cheering in the background.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan handing Lisa Duffey the principal of the year award, with her staff clapping and cheering all around her.

“The staff at Ingram is like no other. They are the reason I became emotional [at the announcement],” she said. “Looking around and seeing the faces of people I have so much respect for was overwhelming, especially during the times we are currently facing in education. They are overcomers, innovators. Each and every one of them inspire and challenge me to do more and be more. I have been so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by individuals that are so committed, collaborative, passionate, loving, and kind. Who they are makes me a better leader and I will never take that for granted.”

Duffey has been the principal for the past eight years, and was the assistant principal for the two years prior to that. She began her teaching career in Guilford County Schools System after attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education in 2002. She then returned to UNC-G as a North Carolina Principal Fellows and graduated with a Masters in School Administration before coming to Ingram.

Throughout the day, Duffey pops into classrooms to check out students' progress.

Throughout the day, Duffey pops into classrooms to check out students' progress.

A lifelong learner, Duffey decided to take her educational career even further and is currently in her second year at Gardner-Webb University pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership. She also serves as an assessor for a School of Education’s undergraduate course, which involves evaluating coursework and giving feedback to aspiring teachers pursuing their degrees in Elementary Education.

All the while performing her duties as principal, which are subject to change, depending on the day.

“Even in a typical school year, no day of mine at Ingram ever looks the same. Most days now, however, begin with recording and sharing announcements, conducting temperature and wellness checks for staff, and then heading out for one of the best parts of the day: car duty. Seeing our students in the morning is the best! The car duty crew and myself do student wellness and temperature checks before heading in to start the instructional day. My day then involves in-person visits to classrooms as well as virtual visits to the same classrooms to observe the delivery of high quality instruction.

“Throughout the days I am often developing systems and structures for our school under our new plans, facilitating collaborative planning with staff members, and analyzing data regarding the progress of students. Additionally, and this year more than ever, I just try to be present to hear, see, and know the needs of staff and students. It is my job to facilitate meeting those needs.”

Duffey and her students demonstrate "air hugs," a creative way to still adhere to the COVID-19 distancing guidelines.

Duffey and her students demonstrate "air hugs," a creative way to still show love and support while adhering to the COVID-19 distancing guidelines.

When asked about her typical day as a principal, Duffey compared it to a puzzle with many different pieces, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to serving the families in her district in the best ways possible.

“Overall it is all about making the best decisions for students no matter what the circumstances are and always ensuring that there is a whole lot of love, empathy, care and concern for all of the school stakeholders interwoven into every decision made.”

The principal of the year award is peer-based, meaning, the Lee County Schools principals throughout the district nominated Duffey to represent them in the Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year 2020-2021 Program through the Department of Public Instruction.

“I am beyond appreciative to have received this honor and I consider myself extremely blessed to work in a district with such strong examples of leadership at the district level and within every school building. To represent Lee County Schools and all our district stands for in this way is something I am very grateful for.”

In addition to popping into in-person learning classrooms, Duffey also joins virtual classrooms during the day.

In addition to popping into in-person learning classrooms, Duffey also joins virtual classrooms during the day.

Though receiving this award was not the goal for this principal.

“I never want to do what I do for recognition or praise but instead because I strive to do my day’s work in a way that is good, right and with my whole heart. My efforts are about the private victories with staff, parents, and staff so to receive this ‘public victory’ and recognition is totally unexpected and I am full of gratitude.”