Paraded through a cheering crowd of Edneyville Elementary students and staff on Friday, Dr. Marsha Justice was surprised with the news that she’s been named the 2021-22 Principal of the Year for Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS).
As bus driver Ken Potter played his bagpipes down the walkway to the playground, Justice was high fived, cheered, and given handpicked flowers (and a few special rocks) by her adoring students. At the end of the line, Superintendent Dr. John Bryant led the entire school community in an echoing “We love you, Dr. Justice!” cheer.
“It’s a great day at Edneyville,” Justice said, wiping away a few tears that had come when she saw her own family at the end of the parade line. “I’m humbled, blessed, and very grateful.”
Each school year, the HCPS Principal of the Year is nominated by and voted on by his or her peers – the other 22 principals in the district – giving special significance to the designation.
“The Edneyville community has a long and rich history, and Dr. Justice exemplifies everything it means to be a Yellow Jacket!” said HCPS Chief Human Resources Officer W. Scott Rhodes. “A fantastic school leader, Dr. Justice and her staff have created a school culture where students feel valued, loved, and come to school each day ready to learn.”
“Our school leaders set the culture,” Bryant added. “When you walk in that building, you feel it. You want your aspiring principals to look at leaders like Dr. Justice and the way she does it.”
Justice joined Henderson County Public Schools in 1997 as a biology teacher at East Henderson High, after earning her Bachelor of Science from Western Carolina University. In 2003, Justice continued her education career in Catawba County Schools, where she again taught biology for five years at Saint Stephens High. She returned to HCPS in 2008 when she was named Assistant Principal at Apple Valley Middle, where she served for 10 years and became embedded in the Edneyville community.
In 2018, Justice was named Principal at Edneyville Elementary and has served in that role ever since – working to continually improve students’ academic growth, fostering a culture of acceptance and leadership, and seamlessly transitioning her Yellow Jacket family into a new school building.
One of Justice’s great achievements is her ability to encourage students to take ownership of their own learning, and teachers to improve on their own unique teaching styles, said Assistant Principal Benita Rudi. Through both the Leader In Me leadership program implemented at Edneyville, and her own transformational leadership style, Justice creates a space for students – and teachers – to explore and build on their individual motivations, said Rudi.
“She embraces the differences of everyone and goes in without judgement – she’s looking to catch teachers at their best and encourages them to take risks,” Rudi said. “She wants to know their ‘Why,’ and she wants teachers and students to hold that close. ‘Knowing your ‘why,’ has been Dr. Justice’s mantra the past two years – she believes in their own intrinsic motivation.”
This has contributed to a unified effort from all students to set and achieve their Wildly Important Goals – a Leader In Me academic and social-emotional goal setting activity that’s tracked each week, quarter, semester, and school year. Not only has this helped drive instruction, Rudi said, it’s given Edneyville students pride and ownership in their education.
In addition to her undergraduate degree, Justice holds a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from Appalachian State University and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Gardner-Webb University.