Maggie King knows the power of education. She’s gone from being the first in her family to graduate high school and college to becoming a teacher and, hopefully soon, an assistant principal.
Helping people learn and succeed is what most inspires King, who graduates this May with a master’s degree in school administration from Western Carolina University. She’s been interning as a principal fellow at Canton Middle School this school year.
“I’m excited,” King said about graduation and the future. “I love learning and I love being part of the learning process. This will be what I do for the rest of my life, I know that.”
Unfortunately, two of the cornerstones in King’s life and education, her grandparents, died while she was in grad school and won’t be at commencement. “They would be so proud,” she said. “This would have been a highlight for them.”
King’s grandfather left high school to join the Army and serve in Korea. Her grandmother also never graduated. Yet both went on to have rewarding careers, valuing education and always emphasizing its importance to King.
King said her master’s degree will also be a highlight for her mother. Her mother returned to school later in life, completing a GED and earning an associate degree while working and caring for the family. That show of determination helped inspire King to continue her own studies.
King’s mother will be at commencement. It’s the same weekend as Mother’s Day, and she’s in for a surprise. “She doesn’t know I’m going to give the commencement speech,” King said.
Originally from Ocean Isle Beach, King graduated from Covenant Fellowship School in Caldwell County in 2004 and earned an associate degree in fine art from Caldwell Community College in 2007.
King and her husband then enrolled at WCU. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2010 and started teaching.
King now lives in Waynesville with her husband and son. She was teaching fifth grade at Riverbend Elementary School in Haywood County when she learned about the NC Principal Fellows Program and Transforming Principal Preparation Program. The now-merged scholarship programs train exemplary educators to become school principals. King applied and was accepted.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ll ever find the right words to convey my gratitude for this privilege.”
As graduation nears, King feels exceptionally well-prepared to go from leading a classroom to leading a school.
The professors in WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions share incredible school leadership experience with students, King said. And the program helped King train with a wide range of experts, from working principals and school district attorneys to leaders of state and national organizations working on everything from student equity to homelessness.
There’s also been hands-on learning — a whole lot of it. It’s been a relentless school year for Canton Middle School where King’s interning. She and her colleagues started the year in muck boots and crisis mode when flooding ravaged the town of Canton last August, after the second day of class.
Tropical Storm Fred brought torrential rain to the headwaters of the Pigeon River and widespread flooding damaged roads and bridges, school facilities, businesses, farms and hundreds of homes.
School administrators and teachers sprang into action, first working to ensure students and staff were safe, accounted for and supported, then helping the school district and the Canton community clean up a muddy mess of damage and debris and start a long road to recovery.
“Boy was that a way to start the internship,” King said.
Only a few weeks later, a beloved coach and teacher at the school for 18 years unexpectedly died following a school-day accident. Nearly a thousand people attended a Labor Day memorial service the family held in the school’s auditorium.
There’s also been the COVID-19 pandemic and all the controversy, fatigue and hardship that’s caused for students, teachers and parents. Throughout it all, King said she’s simply awed by the leadership of Canton Middle School’s administrators and teachers.
“Our school leader and our teacher leaders, for them it’s been all about, ‘How can we help?’ I just hope I can find a school I can help lead with that style,” King said.
As King starts this next chapter of her career, she knows there will be more unforeseeable challenges to come. But she’s seen firsthand how a school and community can rise to navigate and overcome hardships together. She feels well-prepared by her education and experience, ready to lead and, like all good educators and lifelong learners, always ready to try to learn to do things better in the future.
“Maya Angelou said it best,” King said. “‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’”