Loretta Rowland-Kitley and her nine siblings are the first generation in her family to go to college. So this principal knows what she's talking about when she tells her students at the Early/Middle College at GTCC Jamestown they can get there too.
"We have a reputation in our area for giving students opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have," Rowland-Kitley says. "We have students who were on the verge of dropping out going on to be valedictorians of their universities and succeeding in big companies. Our graduates are going places, including one who just earned a full scholarship to Duke as a first-generation college-going student."
She credits the power of personalization for making the difference for students at her innovative school, one of the first early/middle college high schools in North Carolina.
"It's so hard to build relationships when there are a thousand students in a school. As a principal in a traditional school, you're often just putting out fires," she says. "Here we actually have the opportunity to prevent issues from becoming problems. We can take students who are borderline and help them become successful. Everything goes back to doing what's best for kids."
Rowland-Kitley came to the pioneering school at GTCC Jamestown four years ago, having worked in traditional and alternative schools in other states. She says it took a while to earn the trust of students and staff, but has found that a commitment to best practices, a willingness to hear criticism, a deliberative approach to decision-making and an open-door policy have brought them all together.
"My leadership style is very personal. When you open yourself up, it can be tough," she admits. "But as long we learn from those situations, it's worth it. It's important for everyone to feel safe and to have a loyalty to the school."
Through the school's partnership with NC New Schools, Rowland-Kitley and her staff work with instructional and leadership coaches and participate in professional development tailored to their needs. She believes these resources have helped her and her staff learn to truly "walk the walk."
"Our instructional coach works so well with the staff, and the opportunities for professional development are key to constantly learning and honing our craft," Rowland-Kitley says. "And sharing with colleagues and peers from across the state is invaluable. Learning from each other is something one really doesn't get to do in a traditional school setting."
Program Director Rebecca Stanley works closely with Rowland-Kitley and the school at GTCC Jamestown to provide support. She says Rowland-Kitley is a leader among principals in the NC New Schools network.
"There is a family atmosphere at Loretta's school that keeps students at the heart of every decision," Stanley says. "She pushes teachers to be their best, but she also listens and really hears what you are saying. She has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time."
Ultimately, Rowland-Kitley believes that focusing on what's best for students offers clear answers for any principal. "I look at the rules and the guidelines, but what's best for one child may not be best for another. We have to be able to make those determinations and be fully committed to supporting every student."
Rowland-Kitley began her career as an art, math and computer science teacher in Kansas. She went on to serve as an assistant principal and principal at schools in Kansas and Missouri before moving to the Guilford County Schools in 1997. She holds an associate's degree from Allen County Community College (Kansas), a bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas and a master's degree from Fort Hays State University.