Rusty Hall is 2015-16 Principal of the Year
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
OCTOBER 6, 2015 – At Old Town Elementary School, Rusty Hall has worked to create an atmosphere in which everyone on staff feels that they play an important role in making Old Town a place where students want to come each and every day.
That inclusiveness, said school counselor Sandra Maine, “gets us to want to be the best professionals that we can be.”
“His leadership style is an open-door policy,” she said. “I feel like I can always say what I think.”
“He really generates a very egalitarian spirit,” said home school coordinator Jan Morgan. “He exercises authority when he has to but he does not pull rank.”
Assistant principal Charlie Wall said he appreciates Hall supporting everyone in what they do. “It’s been great. He allows me to do my job and grow in it.”
Hall also believes that school should be fun, and, if he thinks it will help make Old Town a fun place for students and staff alike, he is happy to dress up like an elf, invite students to duct tape him to a wall or step into a dunking booth.
“He will do anything for the kids,” Maine said.
“It’s an honor to work with someone who has such a sense of personal dignity,” Morgan joked.
All that and much more led to Hall being named 2015-16 year Principal of the Year this morning at a celebration sponsored by Truliant Federal Credit Union.
In accepting the honor, Hall said, “This is more of a calling than a job.”
His goal, he said later, is “to make sure that every student who passes through our doors leaves us with a positive trajectory in life” and to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
“Our school has the feeling a school should have,” Hall said.
His hope is that people come to see Old Town as “a model of what is good and right in education.”
As Hall sees it, being named Principal of the Year is more about his staff than about him because it serves to recognize all the work that everyone at Old Town has done.
“I’m glad for the recognition for Old Town,” he said. “They work so hard to do what is right for kids.”
His leadership team – Wall and curriculum coordinators Linda Winikoff and Mary James – plays an important role in making it all come together, he said.
Hall is from Stem, a small town in Granville County. When he and his younger brother, Jonathan, were growing up, their father, Randy, was the minister at a Baptist Church, and their mother, Everlee, was a teacher. So both the importance of serving others and of education were there from the beginning in his life.
In his family, Hall said, “We go from the heart, and we put our heart and soul into what we do.”
It was not until he was in high school, though, that he realized he wanted to pursue education as a career. When he was a junior, he and the other students in one of his classes would head over to the local elementary school for an hour or so once a week to teach physical education.
The enthusiastic responses of the students, seeing them learn and enjoying them saying hello when they would see him out in the community at other times got him thinking about how rewarding teaching could be.
“I fell in love with it then,” he said.
After graduating from high school in 1996, Hall headed to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. It was there that he met his wife, Laura, who was at the celebration this morning. Asked what makes her husband special, she said: “He is caring. He is passionate about the things that are important to him. He does things for others before himself.”
On Oct. 14, the Halls will celebrate their 15th anniversary. They have two children – Kaitlyn, who is 8, and Logan, who is 1. Laura Hall was a teacher for 10 years before choosing to stay at home with the children.
“He is a wonderful father to our kids,” she said. “He is good to me…I am so proud of him.”
Hall said that, when thinking up things to do at school to entertain the students and staff, asking himself what would make his children laugh serves as his guide.
After Hall graduated from UNC Wilmington with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2000, his first job was teaching sixth-grade math and coaching football at North Davidson Middle School. While there, he earned a master’s degree in school administration from Gardner-Webb University in 2003.
In 2004, he became an assistant principal at West Stokes High School in King. He continued to work in Stokes County as the principal of Nancy Reynolds Elementary School from 2006 to 2009 when he joined Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools as the principal at Rural Hall Elementary School.
Hall became the principal of Old Town in 2012. Old Town is a Title I school where 100 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. For many of them, English is a second language. In his time at Old Town, Hall and staff members have been working to meet such challenges, in part, by making connections throughout the community and by doing such things as working with Eric Jensen, a national expert on approaches that help students from poverty develop the skills they need to succeed.
The work with Jensen was made possible by a grant from Woody Clinard, a local businessman who has long been a supporter of Old Town. Clinard, who was on hand this morning, praised Hall’s optimistic attitude and openness to others’ ideas.
The school has strong support from other business and church partners as well, and, thanks to a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant that is bringing $1.4 million during four years to the school system to pay for the expanded tutoring and after-school activities, Old Town is one of three elementary schools that have after-school learning centers. The Old Town program is held at El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services, a nonprofit agency housed in a church less than a mile from the school.
The school also offers an Augustine tutoring program and ESL (English as a second language) classes to parents. Other programs on the way include a parent university that will help parents help their children, and visits to local colleges and universities to show students that higher education can be a path for them.
Steve Oates, the school system’s assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said, “The work that Rusty and his team is doing to lift children out of poverty has been impressive.”
Last week, Old Town was one of three local elementary schools that members of the N.C. State Board of Education and officials with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction visited. One purpose of the trip to the school was to show that the D that Old Town received using state measurements that include test scores does not reflect the school’s true nature.
“Every single day you are tending that garden with all of your heart,” Emory said. “Rusty is a fine example of that.”
Truliant has been sponsoring the Principal of the Year celebrations for about 10 years.
“Education is important,” said Renee Shipko, the community engagement liaison for Truliant. “We’re committed to supporting the school system and our school leaders.”