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‘A divine calling’

The thought of being a teacher never wavered from Kimberly Vaught’s mind. As a little girl, she would line up her baby dolls, stuffed animals and her cousins to play teacher. Her mother called it her nurturing spirit. She considered it a “divine calling.” And that calling carried her into 20 plus years in education serving as a teacher, assistant principal and principal at several schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and North Carolina. 

Vaught is currently the principal at Allenbrook Elementary. Prior to this role, she served as principal at Lawrence Orr Elementary. While there, she and her staff turned the school around from an F letter grade to a B. She was, then, asked to go to Allenbrook as a “turnaround principal.”

“The work (at Allenbrook) has been organic,” she said. “We don’t have sponsors. Our kids don’t have trust funds or grandparents who are philanthropists at major universities. But what they do have is heart. They have passion. They are smart. And now they have a community fighting for them and that has shown up in a big way. That light is now shining on Allenbrook and it can never be put out again.”

The recognition as the West Learning Community Principal of the year was a blessing and an honor to Vaught, but also a special moment for her students.

“It’s another marker of the greatness that is bursting from the corridors of this brick and mortar every day,” she said. “So while I was honored that my colleagues thought of me in that way, the only reason I show up every day the way that I do is because of the community I get to love and lead.”

Acquanetta Edmond, West Learning Community superintendent, shared with Vaught that this journey was just the beginning and that there’s more to come.

“We are so proud of all you’ve done to show what we can do in the West Learning Community for the students at Allenbrook because they deserve it,” she said. “We are so fortunate for all that you’ve poured into this school.”

At the time, Vaught said Allenbrook was considered the lowest in the state and trends were going down. But walking into Allenbrook, all Vaught could see was possibility.

“When you walk into Allenbrook - at least for me - you smell hope and life,” she said. “You see the faces of future leaders. We give them a reason for showing up every day beyond test scores.”

To turn the scores around at the school, Vaught said it took a lot of work and trust from the community. A lesson Vaught learned prior to Allenbrook was that she’s not there to just serve or lead the community, but she is the community. Her Cadillac is known as the “big black bus” because she picks up and drops students off at school, and she brings food to families in need.

“It’s one thing to be an outside observer coming in and making change,” she said. “And it’s another thing to be a participant from the inside, knowing that your whole life depends on it. It’s mission work and it helps me build a sense of synergy in the building for our kids, parents and teachers to model what it means to be resilient in the face of adversity. I’m part of the community and this call is greater than some project or assignment.”