Monica Palmer, Albemarle Road Elementary School

  • On a Friday afternoon at Albemarle Road Elementary School, Principal Monica Palmer is visiting classrooms, calling students by name, giving out hugs, and telling staff and kids how proud she is of them. She makes announcements for dismissal and helps work the bus lines. She calls Albemarle a “hidden gem.”

    “People don’t realize this school is here, but it is a very special place because of the community and the staff,” she said. “We have such longevity of our staff – educators have been here 15 and 25 plus years.  Our families believe in the school. And what’s super unique this year is that among our batch of kindergarteners, I’ve met at least 10 or 12 parents who said, ‘I went to Albemarle Elementary School.’” 

    Palmer drew her inspiration for education from her grandmother, who was a teacher, and her mom, who was a counselor who helped children and older adults. Her dad was a pastor, so she saw him teach and facilitate in his work as well.  

    “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I never changed my major or any of that. I always wanted to be a teacher to help people.”

    Palmer remembers a special mentor, Dr. Eric Ward, who passed away in 2021.  Ward was the principal of JW Wilson Middle School when Palmer taught there. He pushed her to consider moving beyond the classroom and encouraged her to take on leadership roles. “I appreciated his leadership, the way he held us accountable. He was very results-driven and was constantly engaging with us. You couldn’t come to him with a problem without an idea for a solution,” said Palmer.

    Others Palmer counts as mentors include Erin Barksdale-Coles, principal of Highland Renaissance Academy and who was also nominated for Principal of the Year, and Alison Harris Welcher, principal of Ranson Middle School when Palmer was there.

    “Monica has a heart of gold,” said Barksdale-Coles. “She has really transformed the culture and trust within her school, and has engaged outstanding partners that have wrapped their arms around her students. (The principalship) is hard work and it’s heart work, and her heart is Albemarle Road Elementary.”

    The best part of being a principal is definitely the kids, Palmer says. “They're excited for every day when they come in that door; I love watching them learn and discover new things. It's like watching little light bulbs pop all throughout the building because of the work of my teachers.”

    To be successful as a principal, Palmer says one needs to embrace servant leadership. “You do whatever it takes,” she said. “Serve lunch, open car doors, listen and engage.”

    Palmer expects she will serve as a principal right up until retirement time. “The kids are what sustains me. Being in the school building, there’s a joy and energy.”