Catherine Berry purposefully built up experience at various levels of the education system in a number of roles. Now the outgoing principal of Creech Road Elementary School will take that diversity of experiences in a 27-year education career and use them to help lead a district.
This school year will be the last at Creech Road for Berry, who took over at the start of the 2010-11 school year. She will take over as assistant superintendent for Randolph County Schools. She follows Interim Wake County Superintendent Stephen Gainey to Randolph County. Earlier this year, Gainey was named that district’s new superinendent.
“This is an opportunity to affect the lives of students across an entire district,” Berry said. “I’m excited for the opportunity in Randolph County.”
Creech Road became one of four schools labeled “Renaissance Schools” by Wake County in 2011. The program, funded by a “Race for the Top” grant, funneled extra resources – such as hiring bonuses and merit pay – to elementary schools scoring below a 60 percent proficiency composite (combined math and reading) on state tests. Staff at the schools, including Berry, had to reapply to keep their jobs.
Based on 2012 results, the school’s composite test score remains at the bottom of the county at 58.1 percent. But the school – with a high poverty rate, like all Renaissance Schools – has seen significant improvement under Berry, rising each year of her leadership from 53.9 in 2010. (In 2009, 12 months before her arrival, that score was 50.9.)
Berry also helped rebuild the school’s staff. After Wake County decided to keep her during the Renaissance process, an interim principal took over for the end of the 2010-11 school year as Berry engaged heavily in the hiring process to fill numerous vacancies at the school.
“It’s been a wonderful journey at Creech Road, and I’m pleased with the progress the school has made,” Berry said.
She stressed that she wasn’t leaving Creech Road because she was unhappy, but for the opportunity. She thanked the Garner Education Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, the area superintendent and local churches that contributed volunteers. She also thanked parents for their involvement.
“I can’t say enough good things. The Garner community embraced me from day one,” Berry said. “It’s been a real highlight for me.”
Born to educate
The shift to Randolph County puts Berry on familiar turf. A Virginia native who’s been in the state for 25 years, she worked for 17 years in the Alamance-Burlington School System, which borders her new county. She also worked at Holly Ridge Elementary as an assistant principal before taking the helm at Creech Road.
Her positions in Alamance-Burlington ranged from teacher to school counselor to director of student services. She also has experience at the high school, middle school and elementary school level.
“I have purposely and strategically wanted to have experiences at the elementary school, middle school and high school level,” Berry said. “There have been great joys at all three levels. I can honestly say I don’t have a favorite.”
The seeds of her long, varied career substantially pre-date its onset. Berry’s father was an educator, and she knew from a young age what she wanted to do.
“I’ve been around it my entire life. It was always what I was going to do,” said Berry, who said she started telling people as much by second grade.
Now she takes that passion for education – and knowledge learned from nearly three decades as a professional – into a new county. She’s not done learning; she stressed the importance of keeping on top of the latest trends; for example she said at Creech Road her staff had embraced the concept of the new Common Core Curriculum now being implemented nationwide.
“Whatever career path an individual chooses, it is important to be well-read and to stay on the cutting edge,” Berry said. “It’s similar to what we ask the children to do: be resourceful, be well-read and look at data.”
A sense of optimism doesn’t hurt either, she said. Change is always a facet of life she said, whether a change in a career or change in the technology available to students. She plans to take it in stride.
“For me, for Cat Berry, the glass has always been half-full, not half-empty,” Berry said. “I have to say I have been fortunate, looking back across my career.”