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Knowing her why

As a Davidson College undergraduate, Rachael Neill double-majored in psychology and philosophy and intended to study clinical adolescent psychology.

“That led me to special education,” said Neill, principal at Quail Hollow Middle. “I thought I’d be an [Exceptional Children] teacher for a little while, then go back to grad school. But once I got in schools, I loved it.”

Neill is in her 12th year at Quail Hollow and was recently named the Southwest Learning Community Principal of the Year. She said she is humbled by the honor and appreciates working with so many phenomenal principals in CMS.

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Neill began her career at Wilson Middle as an EC teacher before joining Teach for America to coach other beginning teachers in Miami. She returned to Charlotte to coach CMS teachers, then pursued school administration and had a yearlong residency at James Martin Middle. She was named principal at Quail Hollow in 2011. 

“Mrs. Neill is a dedicated and passionate leader,” said Tara Lynn Sullivan, assistant superintendent of Learning and Teaching. “She has demonstrated continually through actions and words that students are at the heart of every decision that she makes. She has fostered a highly collaborative school community focused on continuous improvement in order to positively impact student learning. Mrs. Neill is an excellent model of a servant leader who is willing to ensure students have access to excellent instruction and resources to be successful.”

Quail Hollow is a leadership magnet school that combines the Leader in Me program with the Paideia method. Last spring, the school earned Leader in Me Lighthouse certification, which Neill said was a special accomplishment immediately following the pandemic.

“We are very proud, particularly this year, that we exceeded expected growth last school year,” she said. “We also love the diversity of our school. We have truly embraced our district’s commitments to equity and anti-racism, and I am very proud of the authentic, often difficult, and important conversations we have had as a school staff and as a broader school community.”

Neill said her staff is committed to being continuous learners and that she has an amazing instructional leadership team. She said the most important thing a school leader can do is to hire the right people and align their skill sets with roles where they can thrive. That alignment, along with a cohesive vision for the school, increases buy-in from staff and helps define their collective purpose.

“We wear so many hats, so we’ve got to know the why behind what we’re doing and see that translate,” Neill said. “That’s part of why I have been so appreciative of the successes we’ve had in the last six months because it helps put the exclamation point on the why behind working so hard through that pandemic. There were moments where it felt like we were just putting out fires constantly, but to be able to see it translate to our students and all these different pieces, it’s like, ‘We’ve got this; it’s worth it.’”