Summer Rogers, Ballantyne Elementary School

  • Summer Rogers always wanted to help people with their problems. When she entered Western Carolina University, her goal was to become a psychiatrist, but she was constantly told that her real calling was in education.

    “Everyone kept telling me, ‘You need to be a teacher,’” Rogers said. “I didn’t listen to them at first, but when I finally walked into a classroom, I thought, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ And you’re always helping people. That’s how I see this role: to try to be the best servant leader I can be for students, staff and families.”

    Rogers is a native of Canton, N.C., a small mountain town where she dreamed of moving to a big city. She began her 24-year career with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools by taking a midyear teaching position at then-Starmount Elementary School. She went on to work at several schools as a teacher, instructional facilitator and assistant principal before becoming principal at Ballantyne Elementary School, the district’s largest K-5 school with nearly 1,000 students.

    “I had so many opportunities to open new schools, start new programs and work with a diverse population of students,” Rogers said. “But I didn’t see myself as a principal before people started saying, ‘This is where a lot of your strengths lie.’ Tanya Kales was a great professional mentor for me. She was in many different schools with me and saw in me the principalship when I didn't see it in myself. Now I pay it forward and try to see the leadership in everybody, just like someone saw that in me.”

    Kales met Rogers more than 20 years ago and hired her as a fourth grade teacher at Smithfield Elementary School. She said the wonderful thing about Rogers is that she was born to be a leader.

    “I’m not talking about the person in charge,” Kales said, “but rather a leader who understands that to truly lead, we must inspire others to be the best version of themselves.

    “When you think about Summer, you think about head and heart,” she said. “She leads with her head where she’s an active learner; she works side by side with her teachers, with her students, and her families, but she leads mostly with her heart. She cares deeply about her school and community and the outcomes for all.”

    Rogers said to be a good principal, you first must have a good heart and stay true to your vision because the work is hard. But you must have a good head on your shoulders, too.

    “You have to know that you’re not the smartest person in the room,” she said. “You have to surround yourself with amazing people and have the best team you can have to make sure that you reach and teach all kids. You have to be willing to fail and think outside the box. There is no opt out. There is, ‘We will do this. We're going to figure it out. We're going to do it together.’”

    For Rogers, being a Principal of the Year finalist is a wonderful honor that gives her the opportunity to showcase her school. She loves her job and all that comes with it – building relationships throughout the school community and creating great things for all students.

    “To see ideas turn into reality is really special,” Rogers said. “That's what this job is. I get to do that. I'm sitting in the best seat that there is in education – I get to be a principal.”