GARNER — Wake County's 2011 Principal of the Year is a hometown success story.
Drew Cook, 37, has spent much of his life at Garner High School. He attended as a student, then returned after college for his first teaching job. Cook later added basketball coach and assistant principal to his resume before being named principal of the school two-and-a-half years ago.
Cook said he was surprised when he was announced Thursday as the winner among the five Principal of the Year finalists.
"It was humbling," Cook said. "It adds something extra to the recognition that it's not just about me - it's about my community, the town I grew up in, the schools I went to. That makes it special."
On Friday morning, Cook was congratulated at the school with a banner hanging in the lobby and a surprise video that featured students, teachers, his wife, his daughters and his parents
He slowed down long enough to watch the video, then headed back to the hallways and classrooms to manage the bustling campus of more than 2,300 students.
"Cook is the man! We all love him," said Scotty McCreery, Garner High's star student, who had flown in on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to be at school Friday. "He's been great for this school."
In the school office, lead secretary Cindy Ingle, also a Garner High graduate, fielded congratulatory calls for Cook and handled the distribution of free tickets to Scotty's concert at Walnut Creek today.
Cook said he is impressed by what his students and teachers have accomplished. Proficiency scores are up, and the school has been recognized for high growth and been named a magnet school of distinction.
"We have tried to articulate the fact that we've been a good school, but we want to be great," Cook said. "You value the good work that's already been done. While we're pleased with progress, we're not satisfied because we're not there yet."
Across the campus Friday, students and faculty members agreed success started at the top.
"It's so exciting around here," said Cindy Moore, a health teacher. "I've been here 18 years, and I wouldn't want to teach anywhere else."
Added Bailey Brown, a sophomore, about Cook: "All the teachers like him, and everyone respects him."
Cook said his philosophy is simple.
"If people believe and know you care about them and that you have their best interest at heart and you'll be loyal to them ... they will work for you. Kids will overcome all kinds of barriers to work for somebody who cares about them."