MONROE — The Wolfe School’s Les Deming is the 2021-22 Union County Public Schools (UCPS) Principal of the Year, according to a UCPS announcement. Wesley Chapel Elementary’s Nicole Phelix is the 2021-2022 UCPS Assistant Principal of the Year. The UCPS district includes 53 schools.

On Oct. 27, UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan, senior leaders, and Board of Education members surprised the leaders at their schools with a plaque, balloons, flowers, and gift cards. Deming will be given $2,000 for his accomplishment and Phelix will get a $1,000 check from the Union County Education Foundation. Half of each check will be donated to their schools and the other half is for personal use.

Shock and tears of joy flowed from Deming as the group surprised him at his school right after he was named principal of the year during a virtual principals meeting.

“This means more to me than anything, but even more than that this means so much to my school,” Deming said in the statement released by UCPS. “My staff is awesome, and I can’t say enough about them, and the student’s families are incredible. My students are why I do my job.”

Deming’s family was present for the surprise visit, including his wife, Lisa, and three of their sons, his mother, and sister-in-law.

“When you think about leadership in the pandemic last year, and all you did for the students, the families, and your community. We couldn’t think of a better leader to represent our wonderful school system we are so proud of you,” Houlihan said to Deming during the surprise visit. “We are very thankful for you and for your steadfast leadership.”

Wolfe School “serves middle and high school students with disabilities in a specialized setting,” per UCPS.

“I believe that the principal is the most important role in public education. Being a principal at any school is a difficult job, so any way we can celebrate the work of our principals is time well spent,” said Dr. Sam Basden, UCPS director of high school performance, in the statement.

The group then traveled to Wesley Chapel Elementary to surprise Phelix, who was working in her office. As the group filed into the front office she came out in total shock with a huge contagious smile on her face. She graciously accepted her plaque, flowers and other awards.

Before coming to UCPS, Nicole Phelix taught special education for three years in Baltimore City, Maryland. After that, she taught at Shiloh Elementary for seven years before transferring to Wingate Elementary. Phelix spent the next five years as assistant principal of Wingate Elementary. In the summer of 2017, Phelix became the new assistant principal at Wesley Chapel Elementary.

“I love coming to school every day. I love the students, the staff, and the community here,” she said in the statement. “It is an honor to represent the collective hard work, dedication, and passion of all the leaders in Union County Public Schools.”