McRae: More than a job, ‘it’s who I am’

Editor’s note: October is National Principals Month. The Pee Dee Post will publish profiles on each of the county’s 16 school principals as submitted by Richmond County Schools during the month.
Jamie Greene
Yvonne Gilmer
* Ellen Mabe

By Mallory Brown
Special to The Pee Dee Post

Joyce McRae has done it all.

Though the Fairview Heights Elementary administrator is beginning her second year as a principal, her journey has been anything but ordinary.

“I did not go the traditional path,” she said.

McRae began her career working as a customer service manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement, but an opportunity to serve as a mentor in the school system soon changed her plans.

Joyce McRae

Joyce McRae

“I’ve always had the idea that you lead from where you are,” she said. “The moment I started working in a school as a one-on-one mentor I knew I was in the right place. Since then, I have continuously reflected on ways to reach every child. It’s more than a job to me … it’s who I am.”

After discovering her passion for education, McRae took a position in Montgomery County as a teacher assistant. Through a series of open doors, she eventually made her way back to Richmond County where she worked in many capacities at schools throughout the district — including a cross-categorical multi-handicapped class and Reading Recovery.

During her time as a third grade teacher, McRae developed a strong sense of urgency for teaching students to read.

“I probably would have taught third grade for the rest of my life,” she recalled, “but it bothered me when students came into the third grade and they didn’t know the basics of reading. I wanted to help.”

After expressing her concerns to her principal at the time, McRae was moved to a first grade classroom where she was able to work with students who were just beginning to grasp the basics of reading.

“Once I figured out how to teach children to read, that became my passion,” she said.

It’s a passion she still holds today.

“Research shows that 75 percent of students who read poorly at age 9 will struggle to read for the rest of their lives,” McRae continued. “Once struggling kids fall behind, they tend to stay there. The best way to become a better reader is to read. Therefore, it is my goal to instill a love of reading in every person I come into contact with. Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.”

When the time came for McRae to step into the role of principal, she said she was not daunted.

“I was not intimidated because I had already been in the school system for years,” she remembered. “That’s the unique thing about me — I’ve done it. I’ve had cafeteria duty, I’ve been a bus driver, I’ve done all of those things. I’ve had the opportunity not only to learn from other people, but to have hands on experience for myself.”

Along the way, McRae said she had many mentors that saw her potential and urged her to grow as an educator, including former superintendent George Norris.

“Dr. Norris is one of my biggest mentors,” she said. “He saw leadership abilities in me and encouraged me to strengthen them through the Sandhills Leadership Academy. I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed serving as an academic coach and I enjoy serving as a principal.”

McRae also said her love for education has played an important role in the success she’s seen so far.

“I’m a lifelong learner—it’s what I have always known,” she said. “I am constantly researching, reading and reflecting on ways to improve my practice … I strive to make the world a better place, one day at a time. I’m currently in my 16th year as an educator, and I think it is the most important job in the world. I am passionate about helping every student reach their maximum potential.”

After moving to Richmond County from New York at age 7, McRae attended local schools and graduated from Richmond Senior High. She obtained an associate’s degree from Sandhills Community College before enrolling at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in Education and eventually at St. Andrews at Sandhills. After just one year of teaching, McRae went on to pursue her master’s degree at Fayetteville State University.

She has been married for 17 years to her husband, Jamie McRae, and has four children — Joseph (12th grade), Jenna (fifth grade), Jacey (second grade), and a furry family member, Jasper the 3-year-old Yorkie.

Filed in: Education, Latest Headlines, News

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