UCPS names Principal of the Year 2021

Union County Public Schools Superintendent Andrew Houlihan hugs Wolfe School's Les Deming after he won Principal of the Year honors for the district. Photo courtesy of UCPS

MONROE – Union County Public Schools announced Wolfe School’s Les Deming as the 2021-22 Principal of the Year and Wesley Chapel Elementary’s Nicole Phelix as the 2021-22 Assistant Principal of the Year.

Superintendent Andrew Houlihan, senior leaders and school board members surprised the leaders at their schools Oct. 27 with a plaque, balloons, flowers and gift cards. Both winners will be given $2,000 and $1,000 checks respectively 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. “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 also 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.

As principal Wolfe School, Deming has the extraordinary task of principal, leader and friend to the exceptional children at his school. Leading a school during a global pandemic was no small feat, but Deming met the challenge head-on.

Mr. Deming worked closely with his staff to ensure there was proper contact with the students who worked from home during last year‘s school year. In addition, once it became an option, he put a lot of effort into making sure the students who came to school for in-person learning stayed safe.

He masterfully worked with every single parent to make sure that they knew their child was safe and he did everything within his power to ensure each student stayed on track with their lesson plans and progress.

“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 Sam Basden, UCPS director of high school performance.

Dr. Basden has observed Mr. Deming’s positive problem-solving skills and his cheerful disposition as he moves through the workday with a smile.

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 smile on her face. 

Before coming to UCPS, 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. Then in the summer of 2017, Phelix was announced as 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,” Phelix said. “It is an honor to represent the collective hard work, dedication and passion of all the leaders in Union County Public Schools.”

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