Principal at Raleigh middle school goes ‘beyond the classroom’ to connect with students

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — When the official work day could be over and the last child heads home for the day, Elizabeth MacWilliams is rarely ready to call it a day.

CLICK FOR PHOTOS OF PRINCIPAL MACWILLIAMS AND HER STUDENTS
CLICK FOR PHOTOS OF PRINCIPAL MACWILLIAMS AND HER STUDENTS

MacWilliams is the principal of Carroll Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, but that’s not the only job she takes on at the school.

CBS North Carolina actually found her driving a school bus one recent fall afternoon. But, while MacWilliams is behind the wheel she is also driving something even more impactful.

“It feels good to know that she cares enough and is out there doing this to make a difference in many children’s lives, not just my own,” said parent Jennifer Bell.

MacWilliams was not only driving the bus that day, she was also visiting the homes of students who attend CMMS.

“There’s something special about going into somebody’s home and sitting on their couch and learning about them and seeing the pictures on their walls and seeing the different items in their homes – things that represent them and reflect who they are,” MacWilliams said.

Who they are has everything to do with who she is. Early in her career MacWilliams had all the hopes and bright-eyed expectations of any new teacher.

“The kids got all excited and they got their desks prepared and I organized all of their work and wrote letters to all of their parents who potentially were coming,” she said.

MacWilliams recalled that it was parent teacher night and not one parent showed up.

“It was shocking, really, and I wanted to know why,” she said.

In order to do that she went to each student’s home for an unannounced visit. She said the parents were happy to see her and so were the children.

“They wanted to show me their rooms and they wanted to show me where they sat when they got home and where they did their homework and things that were them beyond the four walls of the classroom,” MacWilliams said.

Now several years later, she is the principal at CMMS. She’s also still knocking on doors.

“It makes a world of difference because it shows me that I have the potential to really positively impact kids on a level that’s deeper than just academics,” said MacWilliams.

The principal said she plans to visit every Carroll Middle student this year. That’s no easy task – there are approximately 1,000 students.

Caya Proffit, a seventh grader at the school, said of Principal MacWilliams visits that “instead of seeing us in isolation, she’s seeing what we really do outside of school…who we really are.”

“To see that in your own neighborhood and know that…I think that’s really powerful and very valuable to any kid,” said Holly Attanasio, the parent of another seventh grader.

MacWilliams said it’s important that parents understand why they may hear her knocking on their door.

“In getting to know their parents I was able to establish relationships and they were able to see that I love their child like they love their child and wow, isn’t that just an incredible moment for a parent, you know, when you feel like someone cares deeply?  It’s powerful stuff,” she said. “In 2016 if you can say that you have positively impacted anybody that’s incredible and that’s why teachers teach and that’s why I’m here.”

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