MONROE — Union County Public Schools (UCPS) announced its 2021-2022 Principal of the Year finalists on Tuesday (Oct. 5).

“Each year, UCPS recognizes principals who not only exemplify outstanding leadership and guidance but who go above and beyond to create an environment of academic excellence for UCPS students, teachers, and staff,” according to a release from UCPS communications.

On Oct. 4 UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan, senior leaders, and Board of Education members revealed the names of the 10 UCPS Principal of the Year finalists by surprising the leaders at their schools. Catching finalists by surprise, the group popped in on staff meetings and classroom observations to congratulate the finalists.

UCPS Principal of the Year finalists were selected from a pool of 53 principals. The Principal of the Year winner will be announced later this month.

Following are the 2021-2022 UCPS Principal of the Year finalists:

Jared Worthington — Marvin ElementaryJared Worthington began his career as a high school history teacher for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Prior to coming to UCPS, he served as the principal of Edgewood Elementary School in Whiteville, N.C., for four years. Mr. Worthington joined Marvin Elementary as principal in 2018.

Link to Mr. Worthington’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8sna5KphNC/

Dr. Gina Chisum — Indian Trail ElementaryDr. Gina Chisum began her educational journey while her children attended school at Indian Trail Elementary. She volunteered as their room mom and as a PTO parent, later as a substitute and interim teacher and soon began teaching second, third and fourth grade. This is Dr. Chisum’s fifth year as principal at Indian Trail Elementary.

Link to Dr. Chisum’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8sn6tZdZpz/

Ashley Smith — Sun Valley MiddleAshley Smith began at Sun Valley Middle as an assistant principal in 2016 and became principal in 2018. Mrs. Smith began her career in education teaching elementary school in 1992 in Gaston County. She moved to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 1996 and taught until 2011 when she transitioned to a central office position as a professional development specialist.

Kevin Beals — Sardis ElementaryKevin Beals began his teaching career education in New Hampshire. In 2006, Mr. Beals and his family moved to Union County where he resumed his teaching career at Sun Valley Middle. He transitioned to the role of assistant principal at Sun Valley Middle in 2011. In 2015, Mr. Beals transferred to Sardis Elementary as an assistant principal. After serving at Sardis Elementary for nearly three years, Mr. Beals was named interim principal to close out the 2017-2018 school year and, shortly thereafter, named principal.

Link to Mr. Beals’ surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8sneuyvDo6/

Laura Gaddy — Stallings ElementaryLaura Gaddy began her career teaching sixth grade in Elon College, N.C., and eighth grade for nine years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. She served as an assistant principal at Shiloh Elementary for one year before moving to Stallings Elementary as the assistant principal in 2008. In 2012, Mrs. Gaddy became the principal of Stallings Elementary.

Link to Mrs. Gaddy’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/ 8sn3vpKobI/

Dr. Kim Fisenne — Porter Ridge HighDr. Kim Fisenne has worked for UCPS for 15 years and has served as a high school principal for the past five years as well as assistant principal in both elementary and high schools. Dr. Fisenne began her education career as a science teacher in a neighboring county and prior to that worked in a research laboratory studying genetics.

Link to Dr. Fisenne’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8snujWwj7E/

Dr. Cassie Eley — Piedmont MiddleDr. Cassie Eley is in her third year as principal at Piedmont Middle. She is originally from Union County and graduated from Forest Hills High. Prior to joining Piedmont Middle, Dr. Eley served as principal of third through fifth grades at Walter Bickett Elementary. She also served as an assistant principal at Parkwood High and an English teacher at Forest Hills High.

Link to Dr. Eley’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8snNS9MSed/

Dr. Kevin Plue — Forest Hills HighDr. Kevin Plue is in his 11th year as the principal at Forest Hills High and his 17th year as a principal. He has spent all of his time as principal in the Forest Hills Cluster of UCPS. He spent four years as principal at East Union Middle and two years at Union Elementary. Dr. Plue has been in public education for 29 years. He began his teaching career at an Augusta, Georgia high school in 1992.

Link to Dr. Plue’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8solpEejI8/

Kristy Thomas — Rock Rest ElementaryMs. Kristy Thomas has been the principal of Rock Rest Elementary for 10 years. Ms. Thomas began her teaching career as a biology teacher at Sun Valley High. Later, she served as the assistant principal at the Shiloh Elementary.

Link to Ms. Thomas’ surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/8soCz3OxkR/

Les Deming — Wolfe SchoolLes Deming is in his seventh year as principal of Wolfe School. Prior to arriving at Wolfe, Mr. Deming was an assistant principal at Piedmont High and Sun Valley High. Mr. Deming began his career as a special education teacher, where he spent 15 years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System.

Link to Mr. Deming’s surprise announcement: https://fb.watch/ 8suP6g7AIS/