Embracing a community

The new school year has brought many reasons for students and staff at Lawrence Orr Elementary to celebrate. Last month, the school earned a B rating from the North Carolina Department of Public Education. “We are on our way to an A school,” said Principal Kimberly Vaught.

A few weeks after the state released its data, Vaught was named Central 1 Learning Community Principal of the Year.

Lawrence Orr has come a long way since it opened in 2015. State data projected the school would have an F rating. “It was pretty daunting,” said Vaught. “There’s no opportunity for slow growth in this situation. We need to make changes that have lifelong impacts on our students today.”

Within four years, the school earned its B status and the support of the community. “We were very intentional about how we opened this school,” said Vaught. “From the naming process, to the selection of our staff and how we communicated to our teachers, we have decided to hold ourselves to high expectations. And it’s made a difference.”

Vaught and her staff opened the new school believing that failure is not an option. “I don’t just believe that kids can succeed, I believe they will succeed,” said Vaught. “I have a very strong belief in kids and what they will do when given the right environment and support. I believe in this entire community. We can change the future of East Charlotte and we’ve started that here.”

Several weeks after celebrating the new rating from the state, Vaught was told there was a student emergency in the gym. “I basically ran out of my shoes to get there,” said Vaught. “Then I saw my mom and husband on the stage and I had no clue what was going on.”

Learning Community Superintendent Raymond Barnes was there to tell Vaught she was the Central 1 Principal of the Year. “Principal Vaught is a passionate educator who leads with head and heart,” said Barnes. “She loves her school community and students. She has established a vision for Lawrence Orr and holds 100 percent of her school stakeholders to high expectations to meet the shared vision of the school. The students at Lawrence Orr are benefiting greatly because she is part of their educational journey.”

Vaught knew early on in life that she wanted to work in education. “I am very fortunate to come from a home with opportunity and access and I want to help others have that,” she said.  “We’re not just changing the future for our students. We are changing the legacies of families. This isn’t just about our students. This is about our parents walking into the school with heads held high. This is about a community that embraces and supports us.”

Vaught is a native of Wilmington and earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in elementary education from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She also received an administrative degree from Gardner-Webb University.

Vaught and her staff embrace the community surrounding Lawrence Orr. Before school starts, they host a community open house where they feed nearly 2,000 families. Before fifth-graders head to middle school, the staff hosts a lock-in where students and staff spend the night at the school. “It’s a fun night of basketball, nail polish and ice cream,” said Vaught. “Every moment matters and we want to send our students off with a blessing.”

The Lawrence Orr team is also very intentional with the way they speak about their students. “We’re really focused on what public education means for the black and brown children in our community,” said Vaught. “You will never hear me say we are a Title I school. We do not have a deficit of resources. We look beyond the data points and see how we can change the trajectory. We are people who want to invest.”

Vaught’s family is also invested in the school. Her husband, who she met in kindergarten, can often be found directing traffic at school events. Her daughters, Kylee and Kayleh are often seen volunteering at the school.

While there has been so much to celebrate this year, Vaught has plans to keep improving. “I want my own children, and my students, to be able to do more than I could ever dream for myself,” she said. “I’ve had so many great mentors and leaders that have carried me on their backs to help me learn and grow. I am here to carry others on my back so they can have the same opportunities.”