Collins Hill High School Principal Kerensa Wing has garnered the support of her students and faculty since she helped open the Suwanee-based High School in 1994.

Her enthusiasm is part of what made her a popular principal.

Wing has dressed up in a life-sized Eagle costume for homecoming pep rallies, then crowned the Collins Hill homecoming court hours later. She’s been featured in videos with students singing a carpool karaoke rendition of the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme song.

She ends her intercom announcements with a catchphrase, “Wing out.” Students and Collins Hill staff tweaked that phrase for their own purposes Monday afternoon for a special occasion.

Students and faculty gathered in the commons area after school holding up signs that said “Wing in.” Wing had not only won the support of the Collins Hill cluster, she also won the support of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The organization named her the 2020 National Principal of the Year on Monday. She was surprised by the gathering of students, teachers, county administrators, representatives from local and state offices and her family. Her parents came from South Carolina and her son drove from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Wing was named a finalist for the award in July. She’s the first Gwinnett County Public Schools principal to win the NASSP’s highest honor.

Former Meadowcreek High School Principal Tommy Welch was a finalist for the award in 2017.

At the end of a long list of acknowledgments, Wing thanked the teachers of Collins Hill making her achievement possible.

“This award is the work we all do together,” Wing said. “You can’t run a school by yourself. I’ve had a great administrative team, a great support staff, great teachers. It takes all of us to make Collins Hill a great place to learn and play.”

Wing was recognized for her ability to engage students and support staff, criteria that coincide with the NASSP’s ideals for a model principal. Wing’s innovations at Collins Hill include a professional learning community structure that uses common planning periods for valuable collaboration time. Wing’s impact extends directly to students. She has reformed the Collins Hill High School advisement period to ensure students get a dedicated 27 minutes with a teacher who is responsible for connecting with and advocating for every student in their group.

Her passion for supporting teachers and students was cultivated while she was a history teacher at Shiloh and Collins Hill.

“I’m a teacher at heart, that’s just how I do my job,” Wing said. “I don’t have aspirations necessarily to work at the district office because there are not any children there. I love working with young people and helping them develop and learn. So that’s where I want to be, in schools.”

Peter Kruszynski, a member of NASSP’s Board of Directors, said more schools need principals like Wing. In addition to providing professional learning opportunities for principals, the NASSP publishes position papers on the state of education in the country. Kruszynski said the shortage of qualified teachers and leaders in education is putting the industry at a “point of crisis.”

“We would love to clone Mrs. Wing and put her in every school on earth,” he said. “We need to make sure policymakers understand — from here to Washington, D.C. — we need to support schools.”

As the recipient of the national award, Wing will also serve as an advocate for educational policy in state and federal legislation. Wing will help the NASSP articulate the view of a high school principal and put a face to legislation the organization deems valuable to building leadership in school systems across the country.

Gwinnett County Public School’s principal pipeline is one being studied for the effects it has on developing leaders. In February, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced a partnership between the state Department of Education and GCPS to offer leadership training and one-on-one coaching to current and aspiring school principals through the Governor’s School Leadership Academy.

“It’s an outstanding program to have,” Kruzynski said. “If you have a program that identifies individuals by their skills and develops them … that’s a gem to have.”

In 2002, Wing became an assistant principal at Collins Hill. She was named Lanier High School’s first principal in 2010. In February of 2014, she returned to Collins Hill as its principal.

Wing earned her bachelor’s degree in history and education from Oglethorpe University and went on to earn a master’s degree in social studies from Georgia State University and a specialist’s degree in Educational Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University.

She is a graduate of GCPS’ 2008 Quality-Plus Leader Academy Aspiring Principal Program. In 2002, she was a finalist for the Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year title.

In 2002, Wing became an assistant principal at Collins Hill. She was named Lanier High School’s first principal in 2010. In February of 2014, she returned to Collins Hill as its principal.

Collins Hill student Christa Campbell summarized the pride she and fellow classmates have to learn under Wing’s leadership.

“We can always go to her with any idea and she will legitimately listen to us,” Campbell said.

The job of developing teachers and building relationships provided Wing all the fulfillment she could ask for. Now, she has a plaque and title that validate her compassion is noticed and appreciated.

“Every kid’s important,” she said. “Every kid as a different story.”

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