East Lee's Newby chosen as LCS Principal of the Year for 2023-2024
A slightly nervous but confident Robert Newby took over as Principal at East Lee Middle School in July 2022. A little over a year later, he was selected by his peer principals in the district as the Lee County Schools’ Principal of the Year. Though quick to give credit to his staff and students, it is evident that he was a driving force that helped the school meet growth and move up a letter grade in the state report card system last year.
That focused determination is not news to those closest to Mr. Newby. Even as a child, he loved education and recalled spending summers with his sisters and cousins playing school. “I would be the teacher, and they would be the students, so that they had to do what I told them to do. I was mostly teaching math even then,” said the principal with a wry smile.
“My first background was accounting, so I did that for about a year or two, but I was not happy,” said Newby. “Then I went back and got my teaching degree because teaching is always what I wanted to do. I knew this was something I liked, and I have loved every minute of it since I've been here.”
Newby was the first in his family to go to college and graduate. Even though he did not find what he was looking for in his first profession, he remembers stepping into the classroom for the first time and finding his place. “When I got to the classroom, everything just fell in line for me. I believe God was guiding my steps.”
Now in his 31st year in education, mainly in Lee County, having served in roles from teacher assistant to bus driver and now principal, Newby is still passionate about doing what is best for students every day, especially for students in middle school. “You can help mold middle school kids if you can convince them and encourage them that education is the most important thing. You can reach them now before they get to high school,” said Newby. “They love you. Five minutes later, maybe they hate you. It’s just middle school. I can't explain why I chose middle school, but I do know I have always loved middle school.”
With all the challenges of being a new principal and starting work at a new school, Newby battled through additional personal trials following the 2022 passing of his wife, Sharon, who served as an English teacher at Lee County High School. Every day as Newby makes the walk through the halls and in meetings, he wears a chain with her picture prominently displayed, ever close to his heart. He draws inspiration from her memory and devotion to his family.
Regardless of the personal or professional circumstances of his life, Newby keeps his message to students consistent. “I tell the kids all the time, once you get your education, there is nothing anyone can do to take that away. You'll be amazed where your education can take you if you just take advantage of it.”
Through all the personal and professional trials, his love for students and compassion have helped him build a rapport with teachers and administrators. Those genuine relationships have helped bring positive results to a school that had struggled for several years prior to his arrival.
Newby added, “I think for our kids, they need to see somebody like me as an African-American man doing something positive in the community. Television has so much negativity. Kids watch. All these things are not good for them. They need positive role models within the school system, and I believe I'm one of the people that can give that to them, not just our African-American kids, but all kids.”