Rocky River welcomes new principal

by Morgan Smith

Brandy Nelson comes from a family who really values education. With four educators in her family, it’s no surprise she’s been successful in the field, as well.

Nelson, who in January was named the new principal at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill, officially started last week and hit the ground running. She’s been talking and listening to parents, students, faculty and staff at the school about strengths and weaknesses and what’s next for the nearly two-year-old school, as well as expressing to the Rocky River community that her commitment to the school is long-term.

“I feel like it’s the place for me and what I want to do,” Nelson said. “I’m committed to Rocky River for five years – that’s my personal commitment.”

Nelson, a Maryland native, graduated from Salem College in Winston-Salem in 1997, and began her education career as a teacher in 1997 at a community junior high school in the Bronx, N.Y. She later worked at Salem Academy in Winston-Salem.

“I fell in love with North Carolina after college,” Nelson said about her reasoning for moving back to the state. She also explained that the two teaching experiences also helped prepare for any classroom.

“I learned about appropriate consequences in the Bronx, and curriculum at Salem Academy,” she said.

Nelson went on to get her master’s degree in school administration from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2002, where she soon after worked as an assistant principal in Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh.

She moved to Charlotte after leaving the school system to work as a managing director of programs for Teach for America Charlotte.

“That roll was basically about managing instructional coaches. That taught me a lot about … getting teachers on board and getting your staff on board. I developed my own leadership style because I was leading my own team,” Nelson said.

After two years there and a year and a half at New Leaders for New Schools, Nelson started looking for work in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, hoping to once again work directly in the schools, and thought Rocky River was the perfect fit.

“I desperately missed the students,” Nelson said. “At first there was some concern not only about who, but also about when. Now I’ve heard that people are not only glad I’m here, but that I’m here to stay,” she said.

Nelson’s vision for Rocky River is two-fold: long-term and short-term.

“My long-term vision for Rocky River is that it is truly a school of choice, so our parents and students are proud to be Rocky River community members,” Nelson said pertaining to the reputation of the school.

Nelson’s short-term goal, from now to two years from now, begins with better community engagement.

“There are a lot of community members that don’t know as much about Rocky River as they could. It’s not just about what the community can do for us, but also what we can do for the community,” Nelson said.

Another short-term goal is to help create a strong school culture, filled with traditions, celebrations of character and academics, athletics and arts, something the young school is still developing.

“We just want to make sure we are celebrating our kids both inside and outside the classroom,” she said.

And lastly, Nelson hopes to put an even stronger emphasis on instruction, implementing growth in every student, every day. Nelson is in the process of meeting with department heads at the school, evaluating teachers and instruction methods.

And as for the most recent events at Rocky River, such as the abrupt retirement of former Principal Mark Nixon in January and a hazing in December 2011, Nelson said the school, parents, students and faculty are ready to leave it all behind.

“I hope that people will see the power and energy that is here at Rocky River and understand that it really is a great school and there are a lot of people here working day and night to make sure our kids are successful,” she said. “There’s been some bumps in the road, but we are ready to move forward and make sure our kids are successful.”

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