Get to know Ashley Young, the new principal at Northwest High.
Have you always wanted to be an educator?
I originally went to school to be a therapist. I went to Carolina with a major in psychology and a minor in biology. I worked at a psychiatric ward when I first graduated from college. Then I got accepted into a graduate program to be a therapist at UNCG. Before I started that graduate program, I changed my mind. I decided to apply for a teaching position. I worked with students with behavioral and emotional disabilities when I first started teaching, so that is how I got into teaching, and I loved it. That is why I am here now.
How long have you been teaching?
I began teaching at Kiser Middle School. I taught there for two years. Then, I went to Southwest middle for two years. I taught for four years at the middle school level. I came here to Northwest High in 2006. I taught here for eight years. Then, I was the assistant principal here after that. I just missed the junior and senior classes. All the seniors this year hardly know me at all. A lot of the freshmen and sophomores know me because I was the principal at Northwest middle for a couple of years.
What made you decide to leave Northwest? What made you decide to come back?
I was here as an assistant principal, and I wanted the principal job. I got offered a job at McMichael High School, which is right up the road in Rockingham County. I took that job. I was there as a principal. Then, the Northwest middle job came open. I wanted to be back in the Northwest Community because I love it here. That was a big push for me to apply for that job and my daughter. She was here at that point and was going to be a junior, so to be closer to her and to be back in the Northwest community was the reason for me coming back. My ultimate dream was to be the principal of Northwest High School. So, I applied to be principal here. Then, of course, I got the job when Mr. Kitley retired.
Do you have teachers or staff that you are still familiar with from before you left?
I would say 90% of the staff I knew well because I was here for so long. There are new staff members that I do not know very well because they came in the last three years that was gone. I have a lot of existing relationships with a lot of people. It was good to be able to come back and be with the people that you know.
Would you call being principal of Northwest the end goal?
It has been my dream for several years, so it feels like coming back to my home. My daughter graduated from here, just being here was such a big portion of my educational career. The school just means a lot to the community as a whole and me individually, so it is amazing to be home.
What are your goals for the school?
I want the school to be an excellent place for every single student. It is crucial for me that we are providing all opportunities for everyone. Everybody’s goals after high school are slightly different, and everyone needs a different experience. One of my main goals is to make sure that Northwest is a place that is safe and that the school provides opportunities for everybody to be able to be successful.
I would say a number 2 priority is just for us to have school spirit and pride in Northwest. One of the other things that I have done already is the beautification of the campus. We have worked inside and outside to make the campus look better. Just cleaning up around and making it look a little crisper.
To make the school look the best that it possibly can is crucial to me because we have a large campus and student body There are things that we always need to work on, so we will continue to work on it, but there are so many amazing things about the people here that I think we need to have that pride in it.
How does the Northwest community differ from previous schools?
I think Northwest has good things in place. Our expectations for achievement and success are very high, and that is an awesome way to be. I think that when our students leave our school, they are well prepared for whatever they decide to do.
I think some of the things that make Northwest different than other places are we are not a very diverse school. Compare Northwest to the high schools in the community or the surrounding communities, we look, on the surface, a lot different. I think it is important for me and for the rest of the adults in the building that we engage students from every walk of life, every race, every ethnicity, every facet of our society. That we make sure that they feel like Northwest is a welcoming place where they feel safe and feel like they can be successful. Providing opportunities for everyone so that they say ‘Okay, Northwest is a school that I can be proud of, a school where I am given opportunities and feel safe going to school every day.’ We are not as diverse. We must overcome that. We must listen to our faculty. Also, listen to the students and figure out what their experiences are. We will not know unless we ask.
How has the transition been from educator to principal? What new duties do you have, do you like it better?
I think what made me want to become an administrator was when I was a teacher. I transitioned into some leadership roles as a teacher, so I was mentoring new teachers. I was leading our PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) team when we had that here. My experiences were schoolwide. The experiences I had with mentoring teachers made me want to do something on a wide-scale kind of basis.
I feel like my job is to support the students, but also the staff too. To make sure their jobs are as easy as possible and to make them the best that they can be so that they can make you guys the best that you can be. That is the biggest difference between an administrator or teacher and a principal. Your perspective is much bigger, and it is more global. It is one of support for everyone in the building.
With everything going on with the pandemic, how are you handling that? What are you doing to engage with your staff?
I know things are hard, people are struggling, and it is a hard time for everybody. The isolation that [students] have, as well as adults, is not good for anyone. What I am doing is we are meeting regularly. We have met every single week to have regular communication because there is a lot of change. There is a lot of things that are going on right now with new policies and things like that, so we must communicate. I think, for the most part, it has worked well.
The students are where I feel removed from. I’ve had a few videos that have been uploaded to canvas that students could go in and watch, I’m just kind of giving them little messages and things like that. Just [so I can] touch base with [students] because it’s so impossible right now to touch base with everyone because we have such a huge student body. I’m hoping that we get back sooner rather than later. What I do, when we have a typical school situation is just being visible and being out in the hallways. I look forward to those things; being at athletic events, the arts, at the band events, the music events, all the other things that we do here at school.
What is your hope for school when we go back in January?
I hope that [students] feel better in terms of academics. Social, emotional, mental, all those things are important too, but if we are talking specifically about academics, I hope that everyone is happy to be back. I think most people are anxious for some sense of normalcy that we have been missing for a year almost. Not everybody loves school, and that is completely fine, but I hope that [students] feel happy to be back and [they] feel supported when they do get back here.
Consistency, I think, is important. With the schedule that we have been forced to have, where it is two days here, then a break, then two other days, I don’t feel like there’s a sense of normal school for [students]. The teachers feel the same way. We’re [all] going to work together to get caught back up and get comfortable with school. That’s what’s important for me, making people happy to be back and to feel like they’re kind of moving in the right direction. I think a lot of students feel stagnant and overwhelmed because it’s difficult right now to manage.
Anything else you would like to add?
As I said, I am just really looking forward to us all being back in the building and having some sense of normal school again. I am excited about the future. With our seniors, unfortunately, I will not have as much time with [them] as I would like. I am just really excited about having the staff back, the students back and doing normal things again. Having clubs, having after school activities and things like that. We must have that sooner rather than later. I’m looking forward to making this school the best it can be for every single student.