Nell Sydnor Waugh
Nell Sydnor Waugh is the principal of North Elementary School where she leads a team of educators who are dedicated to impacting their students’ lives beyond the classroom. She is a native of South Boston, Va. and a 1995 graduate of Person High School’s archrival, Halifax County High School. Her educational path includes James Madison University where she majored in English and minored in education, and Liberty University, where she earned a Master of Education and an Education Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction certificate. Mrs. Sydnor Waugh was welcomed into the Person County community in 2005 when she was hired as an English Teacher at Person High School. She later became the principal at PHS before taking on her current role at North. Her story reminds us that open arms and helping hands make for a great community.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) I am grateful for every opportunity that has been afforded to me. I taught my first three years at Halifax as an English teacher. I then taught middle school in Greenville, South Carolina where my former principal, Mr. Rodney Taylor, encouraged me to be a school leader. I served on the district curriculum team, Title I Planning team, and the SREB Making Middle Grades Work Initiative.
I was grateful when former PHS principal, Mrs. Margaret Bradsher, offered me a teaching position at a Person County Schools job fair. Although I was not born in Person County, I still feel very close to the community. There are so many parallels between Roxboro and South Boston. The Halifax-Person rivalry games were a right of passage in my youth. Also, I knew many people through church and through the community who lived here. When I came to Roxboro, I enjoyed teaching English, Journalism, and Teacher Cadet. I was driven to move into school leadership because I saw how systemic, purposeful changes could improve school culture and outcomes for students.
Professionally, I am most proud of being the first African American female to serve as principal at Person High School. We also had the highest graduation rate for Person High School in recent years during my time there. That was no small task, and there were so many key players in keeping students motivated to “Finish Strong.”
Those are my professional achievements but personally, I am most proud of seeing my son (who was a two-pound preemie) grow up and overcome many challenges.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) I am active with my church missionary group at White Oak Fork Baptist Church in Virgilina, Va. I also lead a scholarship program, HTS ’42 Club, which helps local youth attend college. My husband’s grandfather and his classmates started this initiative. And My eight-year-old son also keeps me very busy!
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) Women throughout history have played key roles in leadership and initiating change. Our nation and local area have an abundance of females who have contributed to making our lives better. A lot of times, people overlook everyday sheroes who make life better in the local community or in the state. You don’t have to look far to see how women are shaping the world. They simply don’t settle for the status quo or take no for an answer. That’s inspirational.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) I would like to see more young people go on to college or learn a trade. Life is too short to wait for life to happen to you—sometimes you have to take control and take steps towards improvement. I want my students at North to defy the odds which may be against them and to look forward to the future. I am grateful for the community support that we have at North. Last summer, I made a “wish list” for the school. The community has helped fulfill almost every wish, and I did not have to ask them—they volunteered and offered to help. From large industries and businesses to small organizations and individual contributors, the community has given back to our school. They are helping us plant the seeds for greatness in our school.
You just can’t beat the feeling of a small town and small-town values. In 15 years I have met a lot of wonderful people. I have actually worked with some students who currently have students who attend North (That will make you feel really old!).
Q) What is your advice for girls/young women who look to you as motivation?
A) My current motto for life—it changes periodically—is, “Bloom where you are planted” (Do your best wherever you find yourself; maximize each moment). I think of myself as a servant leader. My goal is to help others become their personal best in any way that I can. Being a leader means that you learn from your mistakes and that you defy expectations.