Helping Students Find the Right Path
The Magnet Fair for the 2019-20 school year is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be held in the Education Building at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. Parking is free.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has 21 magnet schools, and students and staff members from each of the schools will be on hand. In addition to having the opportunity to talk with people from the schools, those who attend the fair will get a sense of the school’s offerings through student performances and students working on projects.
For more information about the Magnet Fair and schools, go to Magnet Schools.
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
NOVEMBER 6, 2018 – With the Magnet Fair coming up on Nov. 17, Christina Forney has had to hit the ground running in assuming her new responsibilities.
At one time, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools had one program manager in charge of Magnet programs and another in charge of AIG (Academically/Intellectually Gifted) programs, the International Baccalaureate program, and the AP (Advanced Placement) program.
Now that the school system has one program manager for all of those programs, it means that Forney’s title is a long one. She is the Program Manager for AIG, IB, AP & Magnet programs.
A look at her resume, though, shows that she has extensive experience in all of those areas.
Her 25-year career in education- most of it spent in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools - has included teaching academically gifted students in several schools and serving as a magnet coordinator and school administrator for a school that serves academically talented students.
“I feel like I have been preparing all my life for this moment,” Forney said.
Her goal in her new position is straightforward.
“My goal is for every child to receive the instruction, experiences, support services and programs they need to reach their fullest potential- academically/intellectually and socially/emotionally,” she said.
Magnet schools offer those options to students and their families, and coming to the Magnet Fair is a good way to find out more about those possibilities.
“They are getting a taste of the programs we have to offer,” Forney said.
That will enable them to make informed decisions about the best choices for a particular student, she said.
“What will get the best out of them?”
Natalie Lowe, a colleague from Charlotte, knows that Forney will do well in her new role.
“Christina and I were placed at the same school – Mallard Creek Elementary – to open a new magnet program in Charlotte in 2011,” Lowe said.
“Since we've met, she has always gone above and beyond the call of duty. I'm sure you've heard those words before. However, she literally does. She always strives to do her very best and is always concerned about what is best for children.”
“She is passionate about challenging children to reach their potential and won't give up until student needs are met. Christina is extremely motivated. She often stayed at work late and even came in to work on the weekends when she needed to get things done.”
“Christina also has a way of connecting with teachers and bringing out their best. She is an excellent teacher coach and is always willing to share her extensive knowledge and experience with others.”
As a person, Lowe said, Forney “seeks to find the best in people.”
“She is a very nurturing person and encourages teachers to become their best for their students. Parents felt comfortable coming to her when they had concerns. Christina makes people feel heard and understood. This goes a long way in creating and maintaining positive relationships. Christina shows genuine compassion to those she meets. She works to make sure children’s needs are taken care of and holds them to high standards at the same time.”
Forney grew up in Winston-Salem and graduated from North Forsyth High School in 1986.
“I am a proud North Forsyth Viking,” she said.
She attended school here in the days when the school system had a school-attendance plan designed to increase integration. That called for going to a different school every two years after elementary school. Forney started elementary school at Oak Summit, a school that is no longer around, before going on to Old Richmond, Northwest, Hanes, and North Forsyth.
In school, she sometimes felt as if she was part of two worlds and that she didn’t fully belong to either one. When she was first invited to join the program for academically gifted students, she was the only African-American student in her class. Her mother made sure that she spent time with African-American students as well.
She worked hard to be accepted by everyone but sometimes felt as if she didn’t fit in anywhere.
Her father, Fred Turner Sr., worked for Pilot Freight Carriers, and, over the years, her mother, Jeraline, worked in the office for Pilot Freight and other companies. She has a brother Fred Jr., who lives in California.
Their father died when Forney was a senior in high school. Their mother lives in Winston-Salem. One reason she was interested in a job here was she wanted to be closer to her mother.
Forney has three sons. Christopher, who is 27, lives in Florida. Xavier, who is 25, lives in Charlotte, and Caleb is a freshman at N.C. Central University. Each of her sons has different interests, motivations, and strengths, she said. One is artistic. Another combines athleticism with deep thought. The third is a natural leader.
Growing up, she said, “They needed different things.”
Her own experience helps her understand that each child in a family might be best served by a different school or path.
Christopher has a 16-month-old daughter – Tristen Clara Bella.
“My lovely Tristen is one of my heartbeats,” Forney said. “It’s a joy to have a baby girl.”
Xavier Forney admires his mother’s passion and dedication.
“What makes her good at what she does is her passion, her dedication, and the will to not give up nor give in – always striving to find a reasonable solution to any problem and not stopping until that task is completed,” Xavier Forney said.
“She’s like a world-class Olympic runner. She’s always going the extra mile because she knows it’ll pay off in the end. Her selflessness for others, knowing that what she’s working so hard for may not benefit her in the long run and, with her that’s totally fine, as long as somebody else’s life is impacted in a positive way.”
Her gifts as a person are almost too many to name, he said. They include:
“The ability to make something out of nothing, never giving up, the determination and true thoughtfulness for others. The gift of giving off love to others, to where it’s not just her work touching their hearts but also her spirit.”
“There are some things that you can’t teach, and she has many gifts that can’t be taught. She is a mother and, with everything that she does, you can feel that mothers touch. We all go through things but she always puts her personal feelings and things aside so that others can have somebody to vent to and talk to, and that’s a gift that is insurmountable.”
When Forney was growing up, many of the adults in her family were educators. It wasn’t a path she saw herself pursuing, though.
“I wanted to be an accountant,” she said. “I loved numbers and math.”
While she was in college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, though, she began thinking that such a career wouldn’t provide enough interaction with people, something she loved doing.
“I have always had a passion for words and reading,” she said. “I have always had my nose in a book.”
She loves it all – poetry, fiction, biographies.
“I loved writing as well,” she said.
So, in the middle of her sophomore year, she decided to change her major to English.
Even then, she didn’t see herself becoming an educator. During college, she went to work for an internationally distributed newspaper connected to the A.M.E. Zion church, and she continued to work for the publishing house after graduating.
“It didn’t pay a whole lot but I loved it,” she said.
A job change led to her working with young people in group homes for Lutheran Services. There she discovered how much satisfaction working with students with special needs brought her.
She joined Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a lateral-entry teacher working with middle school students with disabilities. The master’s degree in Special Education she went on to earn at UNC Charlotte gave her the necessary teaching certification.
She loved the work.
“I felt like I was a champion for students who didn’t have an advocate,” Forney said.
She went on to teach students with special needs at an elementary school. At one elementary school, she had a principal who began offering her opportunities for leadership.
She welcomed that.
“I wanted to make an even greater difference,” she said.
She began working with teachers.
“I got to support other people in their journey,” Forney said.
She also appreciated how much the principal took care of her as a person, and she learned a lot from him about how to treat those with whom you work.
At one point, she thought of herself as becoming a principal but decided to continue to pursue leadership in other ways. Over time, her work supporting teachers shifted to working with programs for academically talented students and with magnet programs.
Those paths combined when she began working as the magnet coordinator at a school that had a magnet program for gifted students.
“That’s when the merging of the two began,” she said.
Lowe said that Forney maintained her focus on children.
“For example, when she learned about the National Elementary Honor Society, she didn't stop until she followed the steps and met all requirements to charter a chapter at our school,” Lowe said. “She established a team of staff members and made it happen. Each year thereafter, students were inducted into the organization.”
“Christina also served as the staff sponsor for many student organizations. She supervised the Student Council, Recycling Club, and Safety Patrol. Christina also started our Magnet Ambassadors group. These children were selected to represent our school magnet program at community events. They also shared their experiences as magnet students and spoke to families about why they should choose to attend our school.
“Christina’s door was always open for students and families. She often coordinated special activities and organized donation drives for the less fortunate.”
“She was instrumental in our school receiving national recognition for our magnet program from the Magnet Schools of America organization.”
Kelli Wallace was another one of Forney’s colleague in Charlotte. They met when Wallace came to teach at Mallard Creek Elementary where Forney was the TD (Talent Development) Magnet Coordinator.
“I was new to the school, my first year teaching in a non-Title I school, my first year at a magnet school, my first time teaching a combination class, and I was terrified,” Wallace said.
“Ms. Forney assured me that she would support me every step of the way, and even on days when I knew I was failing, she encouraged me by telling me I was making a difference. She provided feedback and professional development for me and encouraged me to complete my TD Certification so that I could improve my craft even more. She pushed me beyond what I thought my best was.”
“After that year, she and I completed a Principal licensure program together at Queens University. We collaborated and even completed our year-long internship together. Prior to beginning that program I never wanted to leave the classroom and become a principal because I was 100% satisfied only impacting the students in my classroom. But again, she pushed me through this process and I completed the program all while I was losing my father to a fatal illness. So many times I wanted to give up, but my colleague, my coach, MY FRIEND would not let me.”
“Today, thanks to Christina's encouragement, I am an administrator at the best school in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. I think beyond the four walls of a classroom, and now impact student achievement, school-wide and district-wide. She is the best friend I have ever had, because she makes me a better professional and a better person. You all are so lucky to have her working with your children and teachers.”
Wallace considers Forney the most-inspirational person she knows.
“Ms. Forney is great at her work because she doesn't view it as work. She has a true passion for working with children. This is obvious through the volunteer work she does with her church youth group and various other organizations. I have had the pleasure of working with Christina during some high-stress situations, and not once did she lose her drive, her passion, her integrity, or her smile.”
“I could never put into words what a caring and giving person she is. Ms. Forney views her daily mission as just that ‘mission’ work. She genuinely loves children and is dedicated to their successes inside the school building and in the community. She sees beyond barriers and challenges and never lowers her expectations no matter the circumstances. Additionally, she looks for strengths in people and always does her best to bring out those strengths.”
In Charlotte, Forney’s church was an integral part of her life.
“I had a full life in Charlotte but one of the most impactful was being a member of New St. John Missionary Baptist Church where I grew as a human being and servant,” Forney said.
“It is a family-oriented church where my family and I received amazing support from my pastors and the special congregation. I have been a member there for 32 years and most recently served as their Youth Director, an opportunity that also challenged me to be a servant leader with a focus not on me but others.”
Along with her parents, teachers and fellow church members, Forney has had valuable support from others as well.
“My dear late grandparents Clara and Nathaniel Clavon were monumental in my life, providing the support I needed to succeed in school even into college,” she said.
“They never limited me – allowing me to aspire to achieve anything I wanted. From that, I developed a sense of strong work ethic and giving your best. As I reflect, I understand the impact of students having caring adults who support, encourage and provide the tools necessary for them to reach their fullest potential.”
“I'm a life-long learner, so I am always seeking opportunities to grow personally and professionally. I never feel like I know it all so I embrace the power of collaboration and respecting others' areas of expertise.”
“I know I have made it to this moment due to my faith and family, an amazing circle of friends who encouraged me to take this leap, and dynamic Charlotte-Mecklenburg school leaders, colleagues and district leadership who nurtured my potential.”
“Now I have the opportunity to give back to the scholars and families of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools ensuring they receive the best suited educational opportunities for them. I'm looking forward to the next steps of this journey. I recognize they will not be without challenges as I aspire with an already amazing and dedicated team to advocate for what our scholars deserve.”
“I'm invested in our future.”