Jigna Patel, Lake Wylie Elementary School

  • Jigna Patel can recall always having great teachers. She struggled with math while in the third grade, and her teacher Ms. Gardner helped encourage and push her to keep trying.

    After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and mass communication, she started substitute teaching — not too sure what she wanted to do. But she returned to how Ms. Gardner made her feel as a student and decided to go into education.

    “She inspired me to go back to something that I felt like when I was younger I wanted to pursue,” said Patel. “She was definitely that one person who helped excite me.”

    Moving from the classroom to the principal role allowed Patel to support her students and staff at a higher level, but she’s still a teacher at heart. For the past four years, Patel has pulled a small group of students to work with them on reading or math.

    She also enjoys the challenge of what a new day brings. Being able to help change the trajectory of a student’s day is one of the best parts of being a principal to Patel.

    “At the end of the day, I love being able to help kids,” said Patel. “You never know what kind of day they might have had at home and what they’re bringing with them to school. But that’s the challenge, and I love it.”

    Patel is currently in her 13th year at Lake Wylie, six years as a principal, and has served in various roles at the school, including dean of students and assistant principal. Tonya Reaves, academic facilitator for grades 3-5, has been at the school for 10 years, and she’s seen Patel grow throughout her various roles.

    Patel is also the reason why she has stayed so long.

    “She’s a game changer,” she said. “She’s evolved through the years to where we can see her personal and professional sides. She’s open, and teachers connect with her, which gives more buy-in.

    “We’re not a closed-off school,” added Reaves. “We’re open, a big family and everyone wants what’s best for the kids.”

    Patel agrees that Lake Wylie has a family feel.

    “We support each other,” said Patel. “You could be a kindergarten teacher and help a fifth-grade teacher. You could be in a special area and talk to a first-grade teacher about something home-related. We are a family unit. We work together as a team to support the whole school.”

    Being a principal is a passion of Patel’s, and she’s in it for the long haul. She hopes her students know that she wants the best for them.

    “I love Lake Wylie Elementary, and I love being the principal here,” she said. “I want to make sure that I’m always doing my best to support every teacher, parent and community member who comes through the building and that we’re striving for the best. I hope students know that I am visible and that I was here to help them learn.”