CLAYTON — Janet Lebo loved to play school when she was growing up. But it was more than a childhood fancy.
Lebo followed her dream and became a teacher, spending 13 years in the classroom. She has since climbed the administrative ranks to become principal of Cooper Elementary School.
“It’s been a lifelong dream for me,” Lebo said.
The new Cooper principal is also an American success story.
“I grew up in a poor family in a rural area outside New Bern,” Lebo said.
“I idolized teachers,” Lebo said. “There weren’t superheroes then, so to me, the teachers were like superheroes.”
Lebo came to Cooper 10 years ago as a first grade teacher. Later, she was literacy coach for four years. Most recently, she was Cooper’s assistant principal for four years.
“I’m very committed to Cooper,” Lebo said. She was ready for a greater leadership role but didn’t want to leave the school, so she was glad when the principal’s chair came open.
Before arriving at Cooper, Lebo taught four years in the Hoke County schools and three years in Cumberland County.
Lebo is starting at a challenging time for principals across North Carolina. This year’s state’s budget reduced funding for teacher assistants and eliminated extra pay for teachers who earned advanced degrees. The budget also ended tenure for new teachers.
At Cooper, a small school, the cut in teacher assistants cost one assistant half of her hours. Cooper plans to use federal dollars to cover that half.
Lebo said one teacher at her school is pursuing a master’s degree and plans to see it through, even though doing so won’t earn her a bump in pay.
A program Lebo would like to bolster is Splash, a language-immersion program in which a kindergarten teacher teaches in Spanish.
“It’s intended for native Spanish speakers and also for English speakers to learn and be exposed to a second language,” Lebo said.
This school year, the immersion program will expand to first grade so those students in Splash last year can keep up their Spanish skills.
Lebo said she like to find more parents to volunteer in Splash. She’d also like to use translators more and increase communication between teachers and non-English-speaking parents.