When making her first remarks as the 2021 Wells Fargo North Carolina State Principal of the Year, Dr. Ashburn shared from Amanda Gorman's poem, "The Hill We Climb"
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.
Joining Dr. Jackson on the latest episode of the EdLeader podcast, Dr. Ashburn challenges and inspires educators to be brave enough to see the possibilities for education post-pandemic and to be brave enough to make it happen.
Dr. Elena Ashburn is the 2021 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year. In making the announcement, North Carolina State Superintendent Catherine Truitt noted that “Elena exemplifies the best qualities of a strong and effective principal. She empowers teachers and staff and creates opportunities for them to grow and learn." Appointed principal of Needham B. Broughton High School in 2017, Dr. Ashburn grew up in southern Virginia and attended Longwood University, where she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's of English and minor in Spanish. After college, she joined Teach For America and began her career as an English teacher at Southern Durham High School. Dr. Ashburn earned a Master's of School Administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After serving as an assistant principal at Fuquay-Varina High School, Dr. Ashburn became principal of East Garner Magnet Middle School in 2014.
At East Garner, Dr. Ashburn led the school in significantly improving student achievement outcomes, including exceeding expected growth targets for the first time in the school's history, improving the school's letter grade from D to C, and moving the school out of the state-sanctioned low-performing status in 2016.
At Broughton, Dr. Ashburn leads the Leadership Team and school community in the implementation of the Broughton Five Year Strategic Plan, which was created over the course of a full year in 2017. Since implementation, the team has led in affecting meaningful change, including achieving the highest student graduation rate in Broughton's history twice in both 2020 and 2021, increasing 9th grade promotion rate by nearly 50%, and improving teacher retention to its highest rate, with an improvement of nearly 70%.
Dr. Ashburn earned a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and was awarded the Michael Priddy Family Leadership Scholarship & Award for aspiring superintendents from the UNC School of Education the same year. Her dissertation research examined the underrepresentation of women in the superintendency, and in 2019, her research was presented at the annual global Women Leading Education conference in England. In addition to the principalship, Dr. Ashburn serves as a leadership coach for Magnet Schools of America, helping school leaders throughout the country implement magnet school programming in their schools and districts. In 2020, Dr. Ashburn was named the WCPSS Principal of the Year, the North Carolina North Central Region Principal of the Year, and the 2021 North Carolina Wells Fargo Principal of the Year.
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