Making every child matter

WEDDINGTON – For Katy Richert, every child matters.

Katy Richert, left

Katy Richert, left

That’s the philosophy that’s stuck with the Weddington Middle School assistant principal throughout her career in education – from substitute teaching in Florida more than a decade ago to being named Union County Public Schools’ 2013-14 Assistant Principal of the Year last month.

“Every kid is important, and every child matters … I truly am in this for the kids, for making their lives better and helping them be successful not just as students, but as people,” Richert said.

Richert’s inspiration to become a teacher came from her stepmother – someone she regards as a true mom – who was an English teacher and was very active in the school community. So when it came time for Richert to pursue her own career, she decided to major in English education and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Maine.

Richert then moved to Palm Beach County, Fla., where she began substitute teaching at a large, inner-city school. The school’s principal eventually asked Richert to take a position as a reading teacher.

Though she was excited to get her foot in the door, Richert admits teaching reading, as opposed to English, initially made her feel a bit out of her element. She was heading up a reading comprehension-style class, teaching high school juniors and seniors who were typically reading on a sixth- or seventh-grade level.

“But I fell in love with teaching and fell in love with the kids there,” Richert said.

Richert eventually began teaching English at the school, coached varsity cheerleading and worked with student organizations. She also earned a master’s degree in multicultural education from Florida Atlantic University and an education specialist degree from Nova Southeastern University before moving to North Carolina and taking a job at Porter Ridge High School in Indian Trail.

“I knew I didn’t want to deal with the cold,” Richert said of her decision to relocate to North Carolina rather than move back to New England. “I was offered jobs all over the state, but (Porter Ridge) was the perfect fit.”

Richert spent seven years as the assistant principal for instruction at Porter Ridge High. She had the opportunity to serve students on a “deeper, bigger level,” particularly by working to remove barriers causing kids to struggle and preventing them from graduating. The school’s graduation rate rose from about 78 percent to more than 90 percent during her time there.

Richert also headed up a program that provided support and guidance for new teachers, as well as the school’s Interact Club – where she worked with more than 300 student members.

When Richert was pregnant with her second child earlier this year, she decided it was time for a change and sought a position that would allow her to spend more time with her children – a 4-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son.

“It was time to be a mom, too,” Richert said, adding her job at Weddington Middle has freed up some time in the evenings so she can be home with her kids.

Coming to Weddington Middle was a different experience for Richert, as she’d never taught middle school students or worked in a middle school before. But she’s since fallen in love with the age group.

“The sixth graders are so cute, and they love you … they think you’re a superstar and just love teachers,” Richert said.

She added she’s been able to help the “in-between” seventh-graders find out who they are, as well as the eighth-graders, who “have one foot in and one foot out, wanting to go to high school. I think I have some credibility because I’ve been in high school for so many years. I can talk to eighth-graders and parents about what to expect next year and talk about transition, because there’s fear there.”

The most rewarding part of being an administrator, Richert said, is being able to impact more students in a positive way and observe teachers in their element caring for the students and helping them through whatever they may be facing – whether it’s struggling with a subject, dealing with a family crisis or simply trying to find out who they are.

“It’s just being able to help them and care about them and see their face light up,” Richert said. “It shows them somebody cared and was there for them.”

In her spare time, Richert enjoys reading, running and spending time with her children, whom she says are the inspiration behind the kind of legacy she wants to leave.

“One thing that’s made me a better administrator is being a mom,” Richert said. “I want to be the best for all those kids as if they were my own kids, because I want someone to do that for my own kids.”

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