Woods-Weeks leads students and teachers to success

J. D. Clement Early College High School Principal Gloria Woods-Weeks, left, is hugged by student Summer Connor, right. (Staff photo by Chrissy Murphy/UNC)

When Gloria Woods-Weeks was a student at Northern High School in Durham, she knew one day she wanted to serve others. Now, as principal at J. D. Clement Early College High School, that dream has been realized and she is hoping to help students and teachers achieve their own dreams.

As a first-generation college student, Woods-Weeks pursued her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at North Carolina Central University. Woods-Weeks said her own experience with educators in Durham encouraged her to pursue teaching.

“I just encountered some great people along the line,” Woods-Weeks said. “I can tell you the name of every teacher I had from kindergarten all the way up and that’s a clear indication to me that these are people that made a significant difference in my life.”

During her first few years of teaching, Woods-Weeks knew she wanted to get involved at the administrative level so she could have an even greater impact on the lives of students.

“What really got me into as administration as quickly as I did, was that I just saw some teachers that weren’t getting the kind of support that I thought they needed to be really, really successful in their positions,” Woods-Weeks said. “I always wanted to be in the position to impact students’ lives at the highest level.”

For Woods-Weeks, providing administrative support to passionate teachers is crucial to ensuring the success of students.

“They had the passion,” Woods-Weeks said. “That’s what you need in education. You have to have the passion first and foremost…I wanted to be in a position where I could offer those teachers the support to get students to perform at the highest level.”

In 2012, Woods-Weeks was appointed as the principal at J. D. Clement Early College High School. There, she has guided the students to remarkable feats – including an A or A+ School Performance Grade from the state for the past four years. Recently, Woods-Weeks was named Durham Public School’s 2017 Principal of the Year.

Gloria Woods-Weeks hard at work in her office. (Staff photo by Chrissy Murphy)

One of the ways Woods-Weeks said she hopes to impact the lives of her students is through making sure she does everything she can for her teachers.

Spencer Davis, an English teacher at J. D. Clement Early College High School, said Woods-Weeks does everything she can to make sure students and teachers have everything they need to succeed.

“She is a remarkable leader,” Davis said. “She allows us as teachers to create the classroom environment that is important for us, she gives us a lot of space to develop our students in the way that we as teachers need to do that…there’s a guideline from her, but we’re allowed to grow as teachers.”

Woods-Weeks and her colleagues keep students focused on their goals by insisting that every student is capable of success.

“We send a message that our expectations are very, very high, and that our standards are even higher,” Woods-Weeks said. “It’s not just rhetoric, we don’t just say it. It is a belief. You have to believe that to work here, and we have to convince the students of this. You will succeed here. The cliché that failure is not an option, you will not, cannot fail here.”

She added: “With the caring and supportive teachers we have, and paying attention to their individual needs and trying to meet them where they are, really attributes to our success.”

Woods-Weeks said one of the things that keeps J. D. Clement Early College High School achieving its goals for the school year is the small school setting. With just over 350 students, students are able to maintain close relationships with their teachers and the faculty at the school.

“The beauty of our program is that they have the opportunity to come here for academics and go to their base school for extra-curricular activities,” Woods-Weeks said. “We always encourage our teachers, ‘Let’s go see such and such play the football game at Southern Friday night.’ Just getting outside of the building and being a part of their lives outside the classroom…you have to let [the students] know that you care.”

Shanya Black, 17, a senior at J. D. Clement Early College, said that Woods-Weeks keeps a close relationship with her students.

“Mrs. Woods-Weeks has been like a mom,” Shanya said. “Whenever I need to just go in her office and get some work done, she definitely allows me to do so and is always making sure I’m straight.”

Summer Connor, 17, a senior at J. D. Clement Early College High school, reaffirmed this.

“For me, she’s like a mother figure when I get here,” Summer said. “She’s at the door every morning interacting with her students. I feel like a lot of times, at bigger high schools, people get lost in the crowd, but Mrs. Woods-Weeks, she knows who everybody is. She interacts with everybody. She’s not just a person that stays cooped up in her office. She’s part of the school. The school is kind of built around her.”

Summer said that for Woods-Weeks, staying involved in her students’ lives is a huge part of what she does as principal.

“During lunch, Mrs. Woods-Weeks will always sit up there with our assistant principal and the other cafeteria staff and interact with the students,” Summer said. “She’d ask me how I was doing in my classes, she’d ask me how I was doing as a person. I feel like for Mrs. Woods-Weeks, you’re not just a student.”