By Kim Underwood
Forest Park Principal Falicia Fuller headed off to college knowing that she wanted a career helping others.
At first, she thought that meant becoming a nurse. She soon realized, though, that she wanted to devote herself to helping young people.
“Seeing children grow. Seeing children who thought they couldn’t do – seeing them realize that they can. That is my No. 1 thing,” Fuller said.
After she graduated from N.C. A&T State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1993, she started teaching in Guilford County. She kept finding herself taking on leadership roles at her schools, and administrators encouraged her to think about becoming a principal one day. Deciding that was indeed the path for her – “I felt like I could make a greater impact on children” – she began working on a master’s degree in school administration at N.C. A&T.
After earning the degree in 2008, she was hired as the assistant principal at Cook Elementary School, where Ted Burcaw was principal. Burcaw, who is now the principal at The Kingswood School at The Children’s Home, has high praise for Fuller.
“She is truly 100 percent committed first and foremost to the academic growth of all students,” he said. “Everything that occurs in school is to serve the sole purpose of facilitating high academic achievement of all students. In this regard, she is driven and she raises the bar for herself and for teachers so the bar can be raised for students. Her life experience has made her a highly credible example of the fact that there are no excuses for failure. She herself has overcome obstacles and the seeming indifference of a world that makes life difficult for anyone with disadvantages.”
Fuller knows what it’s like not to believe in yourself.
“I grew up with very low self-esteem,” she said.
She is from Roanoke Rapids, a town of 15,000 in eastern North Carolina, and, when she was 5, her father, Frankie Squire, and two other people robbed a bank. That led to a manhunt that was covered on television.
“I remember seeing my dad on TV,” she said. “I was a little girl.”Her father was apprehended and sent to prison, where he died in 2001; her mother, Cora Squire, raised Fuller and her older brother while working at a paper mill.
“She was tough; and she worked hard; and she pushed me to work hard,” Fuller said.
Fuller freely tells the story about this part of her life; she thinks it helps people understand that she, too, knows what it is like to deal with serious challenges in life.
During her 15 years in Guilford County, Fuller taught at three elementary schools. Fuller likes elementary-age students in particular because of their enthusiasm.
“In elementary school, kids enjoy learning and love to read”
After four years at Cook, Fuller became the assistant principal at Easton Elementary School in 2012. She was named the principal of Forest Park in July after Constance Hash retired. In both Guilford and Forsyth counties, Fuller has worked at schools where a high percentage of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. At Forest Park, that’s true of 96 percent of the 625 students.
“Love, love, love it,” she said. “Everybody has been so welcoming. I had teachers, over the summer, who came in every day like they were still working to help me.”
When it comes to teachers and other members of the staff, Fuller sees her job as being a coach. She believes in giving those she works with as much flexibility as possibility, in providing what they need to do their jobs, in holding them accountable for doing their jobs and in acknowledging them when they do it well.
For a long time, Fuller let people know that she appreciated something that they had done by putting her thoughts down on a card and dropping it into the mail. More recently, she has begun to give people certificates.
Lakeisha Hill, the assistant principal, said that Fuller has created a positive atmosphere at the school.
“It’s been great; she’s an awesome leader,” Hill said. “She is fair. She is clear with expectations. She is all about encouraging teachers, encouraging families.”
Fuller met her husband, Raleigh, at A&T. They have two children. Cameron is a sophomore at Glenn High School, and Justin is in the sixth grade at Hanes Magnet School.