Life Stories

Wake County educator lived to learn and serve

One of Wake County’s first magnet school principals impressed many

CORRESPONDENTNovember 4, 2012 

  • More information Dr. Pearl Steelman Poole Born Oct. 4, 1922, in Hamptonville, N.C. 1944 - Graduates from Appalachian State University 1946 - Marries Robert Wade Poole 1973 - Earns doctorate in education from NCSU 1978 - Begins working as principal of Wiley Elementary School, later Wiley International Magnet School 1986 - Retires from the Wake County school system Deceased Aug. 13, 2012

At an age when many children are wary of leaving their mother’s side, Pearl Poole begged to start school – a full year early.

After wearing her mother down, 5-year-old Pearl found herself enrolled in elementary school on what was to be a trial basis. She would excel, later graduating at the top of her high school class at the age of 15 (there were only 11 grades at the time) and immediately enrolling at Appalachian State University.

Family illnesses would call her home after just one semester, her son Bob Poole said. From age 16 to 18, Poole took care of her parents and younger sister. Once her family had recovered, she was afraid she would not be able to compete after such a break from academia, but she wasted no time reenrolling at Appalachian State, and graduated.

Poole’s love of education drove a career that spanned decades in the Wake County school system. She was perhaps best known as the first principal at Wiley International Magnet School, a position she held from 1978 until her retirement in 1986. It was one of Raleigh’s first magnets, and its focus on international studies was cutting edge. She saw the school through its transition with poise, colleagues say.

Prior to that she was a guidance counselor at Daniels Junior High School, and assistant principal at Broughton High School.

“There weren’t very many women at the time in principal’s positions, and almost none in high schools,” said former colleague Carolyn Morrison. “She would always listen and she was always in a cheerful mood. Whatever had happened, it could have always been worse.”

Poole died at the end of this summer, just short of her 90th birthday. Professionally, she left a legacy as the sort of principal who cared about her students’ academic achievements, and their personal lives. She knew every child’s name and perhaps even what they had on their report cards. If she ran into former students she remembered them as well, no matter how much time had passed.

Colleagues remember a leader who was mild-mannered and warm, but also effective and intensely dedicated to her cause – promoting education as a right, not a privilege.

“I will forever hear the resonating sound of her heels clicking down the hallway as she made her frequent rounds of her domain, Wiley. We all knew she was coming and would want to have everything as she would want it to be. Her level of expectations willingly became ours,” said Jennifer Raynor, a former Wiley teacher. “Pearl is the one who set Wiley International Magnet on its way to blue ribbon status.”

But her life encompassed far more than a career in education. Her son, Bob , marveled at her ability to balance her loves of work, family and faith.

Poole easily could have considered her full-time occupation that of a minister’s wife. Her husband of 65 years, Robert Poole, served as a Baptist minister throughout their marriage, and she was always involved in homeless outreach, Bible studies, and many social gatherings. The years she spent caring for sick family members would serve her later with her husband, first as a young man with bleeding ulcers, and then as a patriarch with dementia.

Or perhaps raising two boys would have sufficed as a full-time occupation. When her children were still young, she began to pursue a doctorate in education from NCSU. She took one class at a time, Bob Poole recalls, eventually graduating with her Ph.D. around the same time he was graduating from college.

After her retirement, she stayed active in the Wake County educational community, attending school board meetings and keeping in touch with former colleagues and students. She moved from Raleigh to Winston-Salem at the age of 80 to be closer to her younger sister who was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. In the retirement community she and her husband moved to, she continued to demonstrate leadership, her son said, serving on boards and chatting with everyone during meals.

“She created community wherever she lived,” Bob Poole said. “It was a consistent life, well-lived.”

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