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‘It’s about people first’

Sharon Elementary is a “home away from home” for Principal Catherine Phelan. She values the school’s tight-knit community and credits the relationships she has with staff and families with keeping her rooted there.

Phelan has been principal at Sharon since 2008, and in September, she was named the Central Learning Community Principal of the Year for the second time. She said the honor was flattering and unexpected, but that it really belongs to her team.

“I’m very blessed because I work with such a great group of people,” Phelan said. “The energy here is fun, there is an excitement for learning, and we all have the same passion to meet the needs of children. We also don’t have a lot of turnover here, and we get to see the kids grow up, then their younger brothers and sisters. Parents make it a priority to stay here, and you can feel that unity.”

Born in Greensboro, Phelan has lived in Charlotte since she was 13 and attended Quail Hollow Middle and South Mecklenburg High. She became interested in education while attending Appalachian State University, where she was introduced to a special education course that changed her trajectory. She was fascinated by how reading disabilities affect learning and after graduation became the Exceptional Children resource teacher at Lincoln Heights for 8½ years. Phelan also spent three years at Myers Park Traditional Elementary and has a graduate degree from Winthrop University. 

“Cathy is a quiet but impactful leader who cares deeply about the success of her students and staff, and she works diligently to create an environment where they can thrive,” said Avery Mitchell, Central Learning Community superintendent. “She is well respected by her colleagues and is often called on to provide guidance, support and advice.”

Phelan is currently a principal coach, which she enjoys because it keeps her connected to new people and helps her to think outside the box. She loves problem-solving and bringing together the components that make a school work. She said Sharon is a very child-centered school where data is valued, but the staff is always looking holistically to see that students are excited, safe and engaged with the curriculum.

“I’m really proud of the people who have come to join the family here, the camaraderie we have and the work we do,” Phelan said. “The great part is as the times change, theories in education change, materials change, technology changes, we change with it, but we still keep that same kind of small school feel. It’s about people first.”