“I didn’t choose education as my life’s work — education chose me.”

Growing up right outside of the Five Points (Duffyfield) housing projects of New Bern, I understood from a young age what it felt like to live without — without a consistent meal three times a day and without the support of an educational system designed for my success. Through my life journey, I’ve embraced the principle that the best lesson learned is a lesson experienced. My experience with childhood hunger laid the foundation for my fearlessness and strengthened my desire to advocate for children facing similar struggles. I dedicated my career to ensuring that no child under my watch had to go through what I went through.

I didn’t choose education as my life’s work — education chose me. While studying for my master’s degree, I was invited to coach football at New Bern High School. After coaching, I taught math for four years and later became the Assistant Principal at Tucker Creek Middle School. Since then, I’ve committed my time and energy to serving the needs of the community that shaped me. With over 20 years as an educator, I still feel just as excited to impact the lives of youth as I did when I first started.

As a transformational specialist, I am student-centered to the core. I use my ability to connect with students to help turn failing schools around for the better. In rural areas, where successful outlooks are often limited, and no one believes they can do better, I invest in children and the educational systems in place. I’ve learned that if you believe in children, they will believe in you and ultimately themselves. As a child, I was always told that I couldn’t — that I was too small, too slow, or not enough. The setbacks that I faced fuel me to drive my students to succeed. To witness the success of a child and feel the joy of their triumph is priceless. When my students succeed, that is the ultimate reward. Their success despite their challenges motivates me to do the work that I do.

“The best lesson learned is a lesson experienced.”

When our life’s work is inspired by passion and grit, it allows us to tap into our personal strengths and gives us the energy to excel. For me, fear plays a dual role in this process. The fear of failure both scares and encourages me to keep myself and others afloat. When helping to guide the educators who are leading our children, I focus on the importance of being proactive and constantly identifying opportunities for growth.

In my professional journey, the obstacles I’ve faced have become stepping stones towards success. At times, my passion, lively spirit, and willingness to laugh have been misunderstood by others. However, there is great value in laughter and positivity in education and in life. The ability to laugh with students and relate to them on their level not only helps motivate them, but also helps instill their trust in your leadership. By using laughter as a healing mechanism, I’ve been able to create a positive energy that allows me to connect with people from all walks of life.

At West Craven High School, success is not simply defined by the educational achievements of our students. Our mission is to maintain high academic standards, build meaningful relationships, and collaborate with our community to provide equitable and quality education for every student. It is our goal to invest in students and send them back out into the world more prepared than when they first entered our doors. We have created a vivacious culture and student environment because of the innovations we have put in place. Initiatives like our lunch “power hour” and breakfast program have resulted in higher proficiency scores, lower detention rates, and increased student engagement.

By showing students the importance of having the strength to not quit, we encourage them to find their success on the other side of fear. No matter how you start, and no matter where you come from, you can still finish the race if you believe in yourself.

Tabari Wallace
NC Principal of the Year

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