Long-time Mint Hill resident Debbie Heath fell in love with teaching at the young age of 15 while teaching dance lessons to students enrolled at Miss Donna’s School of Dance in Charlotte.
She always knew she wanted to teach, although a natural leader, she wasn’t necessarily a fan of being in the classroom. Heath attended Bain Elementary, Northeast Middle and is an Independence High graduate.
“My daddy always said, ‘You hated going to school — I can’t believe you want to go to school for the rest of your life,’” Heath said. “My dad was right — but I wanted to be the teacher that made the classroom a place where kids wanted to be — that was my goal and mission.”
Heath said her love and drive for education came from teachers who were energetic and enthusiastic about learning, something that inspired her to spend 17 years in the classroom before striving to become a school administrator.
Now, she’s the new principal at Clear Creek Elementary School, her new home away from home, she says, and in her first post as principal.
Heath started her career in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at Carmel Middle School after earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary and middle grades education, teaching language arts and social studies at Druid Hills and Albemarle Road elementary schools and Northeast and Mint Hill middle schools. In 2006, she became a principal intern at Independence High School through the Principal Fellow program at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, taking a job in 2007 as an assistant principal at Independence, a position she held for more than five years.
Now it’s back to elementary — a challenge she’s not only accepted, but has taken with enthusiasm.
“It sounds like it would be a very scary thing, but I never had any fear at all,” Heath said. “I loved my high school kids — no doubt in the world. It was difficult to leave Independence, but coming into elementary school and hearing the excitement these kids have for learning — I love it.”
Two weeks into the job, Heath has already prepared to give a listening ear, scheduling meetings with teachers, planning events to mingle with parents and spending time with students. She’s already made her rounds to every classroom at the school, but is now making a second loop around, reading to each class “Snow Day” — a book she handpicked about one of her favorite things, snow.
The reading initiative is just the start to Heath’s plan of improving literacy at the school, her main mission.
“I want them to be excited about reading because reading will help them to be more successful,” Heath said. “I know what it looks like for kids to be successful and go from elementary to middle, and middle to high school because I’ve worked in all those places.”
Working with the school’s parent-teacher group, teachers and area businesses and organizations, Heath hopes to find more funding for new literacy curriculum, something she says the school needs in order to fulfill the new standards in Common Core.
“Moving our curriculum to the Common Core—that’s the hardest thing for teachers,” adding the teachers need all the support they can get.
Heath said along with literacy materials, the school also is in need of new or upgraded technology like SMART Boards in more classrooms.
“I’ve already started making contacts to help raise money,” Heath said. “It’s unlimited what teachers can do with (more technology in the classroom). And we are so interested in working with local businesses in the area to raise more money.”
But Heath says she still has a lot of listening to do. So far, she says it’s clear that Clear Creek is a family, something she hopes to build on through more open communication, adding the direction of Clear Creek takes cooperation from the whole family.
“I want to hear the teachers’ goals and their feelings about Clear Creek and what our next step should be,” Heath said.
When it comes to being part of a family, Heath said she’s right for the job and after raising two kids of her own with her husband, Richard, she’s ready for this next adventure.
“I was a teacher and I was very dedicated to my profession—I also coached and raised a family of my own,” she said. “But being an administrator takes so much time, so I raised my children first. My family has always supported me in that decision and now the Clear Creek kids are my kids.”