By Kim Underwood
WS/Forsyth County Schools
Trish Gainey, the principal at East Forsyth High School, is the 2015 Principal of the Year for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
Gainey was recognized this morning at a breakfast at Benton Convention Center sponsored by Truliant Federal Credit Union. Although the honor was a surprise to Gainey, people at East Forsyth had been alerted. A group of 14 that included an assistant principal, teachers and representatives of the PTA and booster club joined her on stage after the announcement.
In accepting the honor, Gainey said, “It’s all about all of these people behind me. They are the ones who make it all happen.”
Also on hand were Board of Education members Jane Goins, John Davenport, Elisabeth Motsinger, Jill Tackabery, Marilyn Parker and A.L. “Buddy” Collins.
Gainey became the principal at East Forsyth in 2002. Those who work with her describe her as someone who treats each student as an individual and who does her best to ensure that he or she graduates.
“She cares about the kids just as much as if they were her own,” said Farrah Hilton, East Forsyth’s Teacher of the Year.
Those who work with her also say that she is consistently fair, works hard to create a sense of family at East Forsyth and in the community, is approachable and is always ready to help.
In nominating her for the honor, Beth King, who teaches math East Forsyth, said that Gainey is a stellar administrator. “She forms relationships with each member of this faculty, and she cares about our struggles both personal and professional. She offers support, structure, resources, guidance and advice to everyone. She is calm in the most chaotic of situations, patient and wise. She speaks from the heart to her faculty, students and community.”
Cindy Neugent, who has been a secretary at East Forsyth for more than 16 years, said, “In all aspects, I think she is fair. She is always available…She goes the extra mile for students.”
Yes, Gainey is her boss, Neugent said. She is also her friend.
Julie Riggins, who teaches math at East Forsyth, said that Gainey always has time to listen, consistently supports the students, manages creatively and is a caring leader. “She emphasizes building a family at East,” Riggins said. “She realizes that we all have families and challenges that extend beyond school. She supports us in professional endeavors as well, such as applying for grants and awards.”
“It is a well-deserved honor,” said Brad Craddock, the principal at Glenn High School. “I have learned a lot from her.”
At the top of that list is learning to listen more than you talk, Craddock said.
Rodney Bass, the principal at North Forsyth High School, said that Gainey’s passion for the welfare of students is second-to-none and that one key to her success is her honesty. “She is very honest, straightforward,” Bass said.
One way in which Gainey supports students is to go to as many games, plays, cheerleading competitions, band performances and other events as possible, which means that she is regularly at school at night and on weekends.
“She is at everything that the school is involved in,” said lead secretary Sandra Shropshire. “She is a very present principal.”
“It’s not just a job – it’s a passion,” Gainey said. “I enjoy what I do. The students are what it is all about.”
Jay Jones, who is the principal at Walkertown High School, said that, when he first became a high school principal, he would regularly call up Gainey for advice. One thing she told him was “Be as visible as possible. That’s how you connect with parents.”
He has done his best to follow that advice and it clearly makes a difference.
Gainey is also willing to do whatever needs to be done. Shropshire said that, when she was out sick at one point, Gainey took care of such responsibilities as making bank deposits and writing checks. “She wants to be there and she wants to help – very caring. If anybody is sick in the hospital, she goes and visits.”
When Shropshire has been out in the community, more than once East Forsyth graduates have come up to her and said, “If it hadn’t been for Ms. Gainey, I wouldn’t have graduated.”
Gainey joined the school system in 1987 as the health/physical education teacher at Hanes Magnet School. In 1990, Gainey became an assistant principal at Glenn and served there until going to East Forsyth.
Gainey is from Charlotte. She worked hard in school, she said, but taking tests was a problem. “I probably had a disability nobody knew about,” she said.
Knowing what it’s like to struggle with such things helps her understand some of the challenges her students today may be dealing with.
Growing up, Gainey enjoyed playing sports and being a Girl Scout. From those experiences emerged the desire to become a health/physical education teacher. She went to Winthrop College in South Carolina, graduating in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.
Her first job was teaching physical education at a private school in South Carolina. Deciding to earn a master’s degree, she enrolled in Appalachian State University and worked as a graduate assistant in athletics. She received her degree in physical education in 1979.
Wofford College was looking for someone to start volleyball and basketball programs for women, and Gainey was hired to take on that responsibility. After about five years there, she enrolled at University of North Carolina at Greensboro and earned a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.).
She then came to Hanes. “It was the best thing that ever happened to my career,” she said.
Nancy Gibson, who was the principal then, helped her learn to think more creatively and saw her potential as an administrator.
Gainey lives in Kernersville. She goes to Main Street Methodist Church, is active in the Rotary Club and, when she can, gets in a round of golf. She has two Boston terriers. Peanut is a model citizen, and Huey believes that his mission in life is to get into trouble.
Gainey has a sister, Becky Faust, who lives in Charlotte and a number of nieces and grand-nieces and nephews that she dotes on. Gainey and Faust’s brother, Wally Gainey, who died last year, had Down Syndrome. “He was truly a hero to me,” she said. “His support group made him the best Wally he could be.”
Truliant has been sponsoring school system’s Principal of the Year program for more than 10 years. In addition to putting on the breakfast, Truliant gave Gainey a check for $500 and another $500 to the school. Two more credit unions – Allegacy Federal Credit Union and Winston-Salem Federal Credit – each also gave $500 to Gainey and another $500 to the school.
As the local Principal of the Year, Gainey will be considered for state Principal of the Year. That program is sponsored by Wells Fargo.
Gainey was one of five finalists for Principal of the Year. The other finalists included:
Ted Burcaw, Kingswood High
Donna Cannon, Diggs-Latham Elementary
Becky Carter, Kernersville Elementary
Rusty Hall, Old Town Elementary