Michelle Dunbar

Warren County Schools has named Northside K-8 School Principal Michelle Dunbar as its Principal of the Year. The announcement came during the school system’s recent virtual Convocation opening the 2020-21 school year.

Dunbar holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Baruch College, City University of New York, a master’s degree in education (reading specialist) from Hunter College, City University of New York, and a master’s degree in school administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Some educators credit family members or special teachers for inspiring them to enter the field of education. For Dunbar, it was a gift she received as a child.

Dunbar was four years old when she received a blackboard that stood on tall wooden legs. Her excitement was evident as soon as she saw her gift.

“My mother said that my eyes just lit up,” Dunbar said.

She had to grow a little before she was tall enough to use the blackboard, but, eventually, she reached the right size. Dunbar “taught” her dolls and loved to play school. Her brother, Victor, often tried to join the class, but Dunbar turned him away, saying that she already had students.

Whenever family members asked Dunbar what she wanted to do when she grew up, the answer was always the same: teach. 

When Dunbar was in middle school, her English teacher asked her why she wanted to teach when she was talented enough to do many other things. Dunbar never waivered. The only career she ever considered was teaching.

Dunbar served as a teacher at Bay Elementary School in New York, N.Y., W.G. Pearson Elementary School in Durham, and as an elementary school teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

She credits her W.G. Pearson principal with giving her a chance to serve as a read and recovery teacher. In this role, she worked one-on-one with at-risk students to help them improve their literacy skills. 

Dunbar hadn’t thought about becoming a school administrator until the school’s assistant principal told her about UNC’s school administration program.

She went on to complete a principal internship in the Durham Public School System and served as interim assistant principal of instruction with the Cabarrus County school system.

Dunbar’s work in education brought her in contact with fellow educator Wray Cannaday, who was a principal with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. They stayed in touch after Cannaday became principal at Warren County Middle School several years ago.

Dunbar would go on to become assistant principal at WCMS. In 2015, she became interim principal at South Warren Elementary School. Dunbar later was named principal and remained at South Warren until its closure after the 2018-19 school year.

She served as Warren County Schools’ pre-kindergarten coordinator before being named Northside principal in November 2019. Dunbar has now worked with the school system for 10 years.

She was nominated as Principal of the Year several times in the past, but she was not thrilled about going through the interview process for determining the honoree. Therefore, she made it a practice to decline any nominations.

That all changed this year. Dunbar said that Dr. Mary Young, who became the school system’s superintendent in 2019, insisted that no one nominated for Principal of the Year was going to back out. 

Dunbar did not think she would win. She was ready to congratulate this year’s other nominee, Warren Early College High School Principal Shena Judkins, when the announcement was made. Dunbar’s administrative assistant ran into her office saying, “You won! You won!” Dunbar shared photographs with her brother, Victor, who was excited for her.

She considers herself to be part of a family of principals at Warren County Schools and believes that all of her fellow principals are deserving of recognition.

“I accept the award on behalf of all of my colleagues,” Dunbar said. “We are a family. All of the principals here deserve to be recognized.”

She deflected attention away from herself to the staff members at each of the schools where she has served as principal or assistant principal. Dunbar described them as hard-working and dedicated.

“I am floored and honored by all of the great talent in the district,” she said. “We are nothing without our staff.”

Dunbar credits many Warren County educators and staff members with having an impact on her career: former Superintendent Dr. Ray Spain, Virginia Davis, Monique Alston, Joyce Mahomes, Dr. Linda Mason, Chelsa Jennings, Debbie Cox and the other Central Office staff members, and others. She expressed thanks to Dr. Young and her administrative team for their support and for considering her for the Principal of the Year honor. She also expressed thanks for the support of the local community, especially the South Warren family.

Dunbar credits Young with helping her to continually become more efficient as a principal and for helping her to grow as a leader.

Dunbar loves working with the Warren County Schools family and describes her fellow educators as a good team to work with.

She considers it a great honor to be named Principal of the Year. As Dunbar looks back over her career in education, she can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she had not received that blackboard as a present.

However, Dunbar doesn’t have time to think about that for too long. She has an important role to play in educating local boys and girls.

“I report to work every day to a charge of making a difference,” Dunbar said. “I come in excited.”