For Shane Barham, principal of Wendell Creative Arts and Science Magnet Elementary School, everything he does on the job is intended to advance the school’s magnet theme.
Barham said he not only makes sure students are getting “experience learning” at the school, but he also reaches out to market the magnet theme to the community.
“People don’t think of arts and science going together,” Barham said, “but it’s a natural fit.”
Magnet Schools of America has named Barham one of its eight regional winners for Principal of the Year, making him eligible for a national award to be announced in May. In addition to North Carolina, the region includes South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.
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The school also was named a 2016 National Magnet School of Excellence, putting it in the running for the national award for top magnet elementary for the second year in a row.
The school emphasizes reaching across disciplines to teach.
A class might learn fractions, for example, through an art project, building competence in art and science at the same time.
Wendell Elementary uses Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which emphasizes learning through experiences and recognizes a range of aptitudes for students. They can be “art-smart,” for instance, or “dance-smart,” Barham said.
The school has been a magnet school since 1982, and the focus has been on the creative arts and science since 2009. The students participate in six “specials” – daily classes for dance, drama, chorus, physical education, science or art.
Barham just passed his sixth anniversary as principal of Wendell Elementary this month.
“He does ensure that everything we do, the magnet aspect is over it like an umbrella,” Wendell Elementary magnet coordinator Cindi Zittle said.
Before Zittle nominated Barham for the award, she checked with the Wake County Public School System to make sure it was all right, and she found out the district was already planning to nominate him.
Barham and the school did their best to include the students in the award. After it was announced at school, the students lined the halls on both floors and Barham slapped high-fives with them as “Hail to the Chief” played over the intercom.
“To get this national recognition,” Barham said, “it just validates what we’re doing as a school through the magnet program. Sometimes a school gets recognized and the kids don’t understand why, so I wanted to make sure they were included.”
Originally from Rolesville, Barham wanted to teach since even before he started school himself, and after studying elementary education at East Carolina, he started his career as a first-grade teacher at Wendell Elementary in 1998.
He had not planned to go into administration until he was appointed to run a tutoring program at the school, giving him a chance at trying his hand at coordinating buses and payroll.
“That’s when I got a taste of what it might like to be an administrator,” he said.
Back to school
After four years at Rolesville, he took a leave of absence to get a master’s degree in education from UNC-Chapel Hill, studying full time and earning his degree in a year.
He returned to the school system as assistant principal at York Elementary and later was assistant principal at Rolesville Elementary before returning to Wendell Elementary as principal.
Kara Acree, the PTA president at Wendell Elementary and mother of two students at the school, said Barham’s rapport with students, teachers and parents is remarkable.
“I’ve worked with a lot of principals in a lot of districts,” said Acree, who is a compliance officer with the Johnston County school system, “and he just motivates people to want to be better, and on top of that he is caring.”
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826