When people ask Freedom High School Principal Felicia Simmons how many kids she has, she takes the enrollment number at her school and adds three to it. Simmon’s motto is “family first” and to her, family includes her husband Monte, children Monte Jr., Felice and Micah, plus her students, faculty and staff.

This mother of 1,126 was named Burke County Public Schools Principal of the Year last Thursday night before the start of her new school family’s home football game against East Burke High School.

“I am humbled that my peers would vote me principal of the year,” Simmons said. “All of my colleagues deserve to be principal of the year. All of us work so hard and put students first. So I share this with all of my principal colleagues.”

Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam surprised Simmons with the honor on the football field last Thursday night.

“I was in shock,” Simmons said of her immediate reaction.

Putnam also surprised Jim Childers as Assistant Principal of the Year at the game. Childers is the athletic director, assistant principal and an assistant football coach at East Burke High School.

The principals and assistant principals of Burke County Public Schools voted Simmons and Childers for the honors.

“I see in Mrs. Simmons and Mr. Childers what our colleagues do and that is their dedication and passion for education,” said Putnam. “They are all about serving students and are all in at their schools. I look forward to working with them for many years to come and seeing their continued impact on our great school system.”

Simmons is the first female principal at Freedom.

Her oldest son, a sophomore at Winston-Salem State, called her last Thursday night after seeing on social media the news of her being named principal of the year, she said.

“He told me how proud he is of me, and he said, ‘You were right, Mom. You always said anything is possible.’ He started repeating quotes I have told him all his life,” Simmons said.

Some of those quotes include:

» “When you write the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.” (Harley - Davidson ad)

» “It takes a village to raise a child.” (African proverb)

» “Everyone has a leader inside of them.” (Steve Covey)

Simmons said she lives by these philosophies.

“I love being around the kids,” she said. “They keep me young. I love seeing them become leaders. It takes all of us – custodians, cafeteria staff, maintenance staff, teacher assistants and teachers. We all play an essential role in meeting the needs of these students and I encourage all of us to grow leaders.”

Simmons’ path to leadership went through West Caldwell High School and Winston-Salem State University. It was at Winston-Salem that she met her husband, Monte. Monte, the head football coach and a PE teacher at West Iredell High School, played football for the Winston-Salem State, and Simmons was on the band flag and dance squad.

Simmons has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and started her teaching career as a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Gamewell Middle School. She received her school administration master’s degree from Gardner-Webb University. She was assistant principal at Hibriten and principal at West Lenoir School of Technology before coming to Burke County Public Schools in 2013. She has been principal at Walter Johnson and Table Rock middle schools and was named principal at Freedom this summer.

She thanked the faculty and staff at her previous school, Table Rock, and her new school, Freedom.

“They are wonderful and have been so supportive, and they get credit for this honor of principal of the year, too,” she said.

On being named assistant principal of the year, Childers said he was caught off g ua rd .

“I was really caught off guard in receiving this award ," he said. " There are so many more deserving people in this school system for this award. I will say that I am truly blessed to work with the people I do. The entire staff at East Burke makes my job easy.”

Like Simmons, Childers, too, has roots in Caldwell County. He graduated from Hibriten High School and attended Catawba College. He played football, basketball and baseball and wrestled in high school and played football in college. He has bachelor's degrees in special education and physical education and has a master’s degree in administration from Gardner-Webb University.

Childers spent 12 years teaching special education for the Caldwell County School System. In 2001, he came to Burke County Public Schools serving as principal at East Burke Middle School and assistant principal at East Burke High School. He coached football at Hibriten and Catawba College and spent the last 16 years coaching football at East Burke High.

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