Fuquay-Varina High School doesn’t normally hold pep rallies, so principal Jonathan Enns was definitely surprised Friday morning to find himself the guest of honor at one.
Hundreds of students gathered in the school gym to celebrate Enns being named the Wake County school system’s 2017-18 Principal of the Year on Thursday night. Chants of “Mr. Enns” rang from the bleachers, cheerleaders chanted “Here we go Enns, here we go,” and the chorus sang “Celebration.”
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“I’m so proud and honored to be your principal,” Enns said as he thanked the audience for the pep rally. “The accomplishments, anything that I received last night – truly – is the result of all the students and staff at this school. You guys need to know that.
“You know we accomplished all that we’ve accomplished through your hard work and perseverance, your grit, your effort. You never quit.”
The accolade as top principal in North Carolina’s largest school district helps vindicate a decision that Enns, 43, made 17 years ago when he walked away from his love of flying to become an educator like both of his parents. The native of Ontario, Canada, had gotten a degree in education and gone to flight school to get a commercial pilot’s license.
“There were two things that I enjoyed professionally,” Enns said in an interview Friday. “One was flying an airplane and the other was walking out of a school at the end of the day. I just chose and I don’t regret it in the least.
“The part that won over in education is being able to serve other people.”
Enns contacted the Chapel Hill-based Visiting International Faculty Program, now called Participate, which places teachers from other countries in U.S. schools. Enns wound up as a physics teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary in 2001, beginning what he called his “17-year working vacation.”
His desire to work in a state near the mountains or the ocean turned into a career in the U.S. after Enns met the woman who would become his wife and mother of their two daughters, ages 6 and 2. Erica Enns teaches eighth-grade language arts at Holly Ridge Middle School in Holly Springs.
Enns said he wanted to have an impact on more students and staff so he became an administrator, first as an assistant principal at Fuquay-Varina High and later as principal of Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill. Enns returned to Fuquay-Varina High in 2014 to be its principal.
In the last three years, the school’s graduation rate has climbed 12 percentage points, the passing rate on state end-of-course tests has risen 7.9 percent, and enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has increased 130 percent.
At the same time, suspensions have decreased by 54 percent at the 2,300-student school in southern Wake.
Enns credits the school’s success to building relationships with students and having high expectations of them.
“We preach the idea that there is nothing that is not attainable,” he said. “We really push kids into rigorous courses across the board while constantly trying to maintain equity within the classes to make sure they’re well represented.”
The strong relationships were apparent at Friday’s pep rally.
“It’s also cool when he walks into class,” said Dylan Cole, a senior and member of the chorus. “Usually when a principal walks into a classroom, ‘Oh crap it’s the principal.’ But when he walks in it’s like, ‘Oh yeah. It’s Mr. Enns.’”
Mason Walker, a senior and chorus member, said he can’t recall a single concert or show performance where Enns wasn’t there.
Connor Thomas. a senior and a leader in the Orange Crush student spirit group, praised Enns for being there well after the school day ends, working with sports and student groups.
“He is overall fantastic,” he said.
Enns, who played soccer and was in the chorus in high school, said he encourages students to be as well-rounded as possible.
“Our expectations for academics are incredibly high,” he said. “But I also demand that they are well-rounded, that they pursue other things outside of just pure academics as well and part of that is to make sure they have a strong connection with the school.”