PROSPERITY — Nikki Hunter, former curriculum coordinator for Mid-Carolina Middle School, has been promoted to assistant principal for this 2016-17 academic year.
Hunter has been a teacher and educator for the Newberry County School District for the past 20 years. She will be working alongside co-assistant principal Eric Thompson. Her position primarily entails discipline for the sixth and eighth grades as well as assisting Principal Deedee Westwood with programs and initiatives.
“Being part of Mid-Carolina Middle School’s administrative team for the past two years is a real advantage for me,” said Hunter. “Knowing all of the faculty members and two-thirds of the student body makes the transition an easy one.”
Hunter said she looks forward to continuing to cultivate the relationships she has formed and furthering her growth professionally under the leadership of Westwood. As assistant principal, she said she will have more face-to-face time with the student body.
Hunter aspires to be a positive role model in guiding students in the right direction to be the best they can be and prepare them as they make the move to high school.
“My goal is to hopefully inspire students to want to do better, not just behaviorally, academically and socially. At this age they learn so much about themselves and they change a whole lot from what they were,” Hunter said. “I know that once you set yourself up well in middle school and you get that foundation, you are likely to be more successful in high school.”
Hunter also said her goal is safety.
“I want to provide a safety net for our students, not only physically, but socially and emotionally and be there for them as well,” she said.
Hunter said she always thought of herself as a teacher leader in the school. She is eager to apply her knowledge and expertise she gained in the classroom and as a curriculum coordinator and use those abilities to collaborate with the administrative staff.
“I am a risk taker. In my classroom I was always a risk taker, but I knew I was good at that,” she said. “This year, I am not so much of a risk taker just because I am still feeling my way through. I am not taking risks at this point in my career. I am heavily reliant on my principal to guide me and give me her opinion along with other mentors that I have.”
Hunter grew up in Charleston and enrolled in college at Francis Marion University, pursuing her degree in biology but quickly changed her major to education knowing it would be a better fit. She graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in education in 1996 and landed her first job as a fifth grade teacher at Gallman Elementary School.
“Cathie Hartzog, a mentor at Gallman Elementary, pushed me to change grade levels when I was comfortable teaching the fifth grade for 12 years. She said if I was thinking of going into administration, I would need a different prospective,” she said. “I took the advice and taught the third and fourth grades at Gallman, then sixth grade at Newberry Middle School which I believe led me to get an administrative job at Mid-Carolina Middle School.”
Hunter said Hartzog gave her the confidence to move and not put herself in a box.
“As long as you are in that comfort zone and you are not challenged, you are not growing,” she said. “If I hadn’t had that experience, then I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity I have now.”
Hunter goes the extra mile to make sure her students have what it takes to go forward and makes the necessary changes to ensure they are getting the best education they need to grow and learn.
In 2005, she created a unique way for her students to learn social studies through an educational CD program called “Hip Hop Hooks on American History.” When her students scored below average she knew she had to do something. After she implemented her program, their scores vastly improved.
“I really like teaching because I was not a good student so I know what students need from their teachers that I did not receive,” Hunter said. “I always make sure I provided that to the students. I give extra to the little things that some teachers do not pay attention to with the kids that fall through the cracks. I was very quiet and always felt like I was forgotten.”
After 18 years of teaching in the classroom, Hunter was ready to explore her career options outside of the classroom and began seeking an administrative role.
“I was ready to get out and have more of an impact. Rather than being confined to teaching one class, I wanted to have an impact on the entire school. You can do that in a classroom and you can share ideas with people, but it’s different when you are not in a classroom and you can see the whole picture,” Hunter said. “13This is why I have been motivated to pursue being on the administrative side of education.”
Hunter continues to learn more about her position as assistant principle. She recently attended “APPLE,” a program designed for first year assistant principals. The Assistant Principal Program for Leadership Excellence helps maintain leadership, management and instructional leadership skills.
“My goal is to learn as much as I can because eventually I would like to become a principal. Principal Westwood really teaches her staff how to be a leader through example. She gives me situations and allows me the opportunity to make decisions and see what works. I find this valuable for when it is time for me to be on my own and lead my own school. I will be prepared.” Hunter said.
When Hunter was growing up she said her mother always pushed her the hardest to be successful. Her words at the time went in one ear and out the other, but stuck with her.
“My mom always pushed the best. She always used to say, ‘You can’t go around being mediocre.’ I had no idea what that meant, so she said, ‘You can’t walk around being average.’ This didn’t sink in until after college. It’s true, you have to strive to be the best. From that I have high standards and strive to do the best,” Hunter said.
“I learned to be reflective and think back about what I have done throughout the day because I have to be able to lay my head down at night and know that every decision I made was in the best interest of that child. Whether or not they were happy about it or not, I know that it was in their best interest.
Hunter says to be successful in the education field you have to have a love for it or you will be miserable. She says you must be humble enough, have the humility to ask for help and be willing to receive feedback even if the feedback isn’t favorable.
“I love my job. I love what I do. I love the crazy about it, I love the good about it and just everything about it,” said Hunter. “You have to really love education to be effective and continually be willing to learn and not feel as if you have arrived. When you feel you have arrived, it’s time to walk away.”
Sarah Dougherty is a student at Newberry College.