Matt Wight’s position as principal of Apex High School was succeeded by Dr. Diann Kearney late last year. She is from Greensboro, NC and attended NC State and UNC Wilmington, where she earned her master’s degree. She is even fluent in Spanish. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to shadow her on Oct. 13, but since we are the same height, we agreed on the phrase “following each other around” as opposed to shadowing.
She arrives to school at 6:30 a.m. and stands in the courtyard until about 7:30 a.m. to direct students to their classes. If available, she will use the next forty-five minutes or so to walk around the campus to visit classes to either say “hi” or check on students and teachers. Each visit is around one minute depending on whether or not a teacher or student wants to talk. Her job is much busier than most people understand.
“The most challenging part is seeing students make poor choices and having to endure the consequences of those choices,” says Kearney. “A high school diploma is as good as money, and many students give up just months before they are set to graduate.”
Making sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to do is extremely difficult at times, and it shows when Kearney is faced with a huge decision. At the end of last year, Apex High School had a chemical fire in Room 407. Due to how new she was to the campus, she did not know exactly where Room 407 was. She hurried through the courtyard and ran into Coach Bristol. She asked him to go with her to the room. Everything then went as planned, and students evacuated properly. Kearney decided to close down all buildings connected to Room 407 until the whole place was one-hundred percent clear for people to go in.
“Believe it or not, I actually skipped a study hall class during my senior year of high school. The assistant principal called me into her office and assigned me a full day of ‘in school suspension.’” Kearney explained. “It was very embarrassing to me since I considered myself a good student; I was a member of the Honor Society and basketball team at that time. I would definitely take that mistake back as my good reputation was far more valuable than a ‘free afternoon’ at the mall!”
Kearney’s grades were excellent in high school and college. Believe it or not, Mr. Wight sat next to her in graduate school at UNC Wilmington because her grades were so good. She balanced school and work; although challenging, she found it to be incredibly rewarding.
“My best college memory actually occurred as a result of my hard work during college. While at NCSU, I worked part-time and took a full load of classes so that I could fund my education. My busy schedule did not leave much time for some of the things my other college friends enjoyed — I was often working on game day or too short on funds to make the spring break trips. During the month before I graduated from NCSU, I was granted an interview to teach middle school in Wilmington, NC. The director of human resources interviewed me and offered me a teaching position on the spot. While I had always been confident that I would get a teaching job, I never dreamed I would get the first one I interviewed for! All my hard work in college paid off! I have a wonderful career doing a job that I love, and I would not change a single thing about my life!”
One of her main jobs is to manage budgets and funds for the school. I had no idea she was in charge of this; she is essentially the CEO of Apex High School. One of the things we went in-depth about is the renovation of the school, which will take place in June of 2017, if it gains approval from the county. The process to renovate the school is shocking. $8 million is sufficient for the renovation to occur, but that is only ten percent of what is needed to renovate. If that number is reached, then the renovation will occur. C Building will possibly have some minor changes, B Building will have a lot done to it yet no demolishment, and the A Building along with the gym, theater, and band room, will be gutted which means literally demolished.
Bullying is a problem at all schools whether one sees it or not. People become victims of it and remain silent about it because they feel powerless. It is important that it is addressed and eliminated so everyone at the school gets along, learns to settle differences, and express feelings without threatening someone else’s well-being. Kearney clearly plans to intervene with any bullying before it gets out of hand.
“We have established a committee of staff, students, parents, and administration to identify ways we can better educate our students about the effects of bullying. Our committee has decided to name our efforts ‘Stand Up!’ to encourage everyone to take a stand against bullying — whether you see it or are a victim, you should not allow others to make unkind or inappropriate statements about yourself or others. We will have a logo design contest and outline our plans in mid-October. I have found that the golden rule is still true and effective — ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ If we all follow this rule, our school will be a safer and friendlier place for everyone.”
A lot of people want jobs at Apex High School. In fact, there are hundreds of people who could fill David Zies’s staff position. I got in trouble with him several weeks ago for attempting to skip Cougar Class. I was aggravated with the situation, but he is doing his job. He came into Kearney’s office, and he asked me to tell her how I knew him, and I explained our encounter. She was pleased to hear that he is doing his job well. I found common ground with Zies and could definitely vouch for his capability and his kind approach to apprehending students.
Kearney lives in Raleigh now, so I have been curious — why Apex? I moved to Apex in 2005 while it was still the boondocks. Since then, it has grown exponentially.
“Apex has a small town appeal — community support, friendly atmosphere, and all the conveniences of a larger city,” says Kearney.
Something Kearney really cares about are the arts programs at Apex High School. For example, she explained that the band room is insufficient for the number of students. They aren’t even allowed to stack instruments twelve inches from the ceiling due to “hazard.” She wants the band room, visual arts classes, and theater to all be ampler.
“I would love to see every AHS student involved in an arts, CTE, AOIT, or other course sequence in addition to their core course requirements. I believe the arts, CTE, AOIT, and co-curricular opportunities like sports and clubs positively impact students’ high school experience and increases the likelihood of a productive experience leading to graduation and increased post-secondary opportunities. There is also a lot of research that says students involved in these activities are more likely to graduate from high school!”
I have to give credit where it is due, and Kearney is a very hard-working individual for many to look up to now that people have the chance to know more about what she does as the principal. Her ways of doing things are reasonable, and she means well for the school’s future. She would like to see nothing less than improvement to the campus, and people have no reason to worry because there will still be a courtyard unlike the other schools of Wake County. She really likes Apex and is still learning about its growth in the past decade. She definitely looks forward to improving Apex High School from all angles. I asked her how often she comes to school in the morning and does not want to be there, and she said that she has enjoyed every day of her work in public education since she began teaching in 1987. I believe there are many misconceptions about how principals are tough people to deal with, but Dr. Kearney is absolutely a step in the right direction for the entire town’s future.