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‘Principal of the Year’ mans the house at Whitehaven High School

Dr. Vincent Hunter has had a few days for the news to sink in.

The Whitehaven High School principal has been named Shelby County Schools “Principal of the Year” for the 2019-20 school year.

“I have been a finalist several times,” said Hunter. “This year when I learned that I was in the running again, I felt happy just to be recognized for my work.

“But you can’t get too excited about these things. When I found out I had won, I guess they said, ‘Let’s go on and give it to the old man.’”

Hunter’s laughter is hearty, but his “Principal of the Year” title, he said, is “a humbling tribute and a great honor.” Teaching children and shaping their lives is “the most important work there is.”

Shelby County Schools Supt. Dr. Joris Ray commended Hunter for this latest achievement.

“Strong leadership is crucial during these times and we are honored to have an inspirational leader like Dr. Vincent Hunter in our District,” Ray said.

Hunter said Whitehaven High School is the cornerstone of the Whitehaven community. His students are his children, and he tells them he loves them every day.

Pre-pandemic, Whitehaven High School Principal Dr. Vincent Hunter celebrates with students. (Courtesy photo)

“They hang around the office because I keep snacks in here, and they email me over the course of the school day,” Hunter said. “But it’s OK.”

Each year, Whitehaven has produced an impressive number of seniors who are offered more than $1 million in scholarships.

Even in a school year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the school still touts that distinction.

“This year, we had 50 students to be awarded $1 million in scholarship money,” Hunter said. “We would have had more, but the school year ended early. In the past five years, our scholarships have totaled half a billion dollars.”

For this jovial administrator, there really is no big secret to his success. When children know that they are loved and they are being genuinely nurtured, they will excel, not only meeting expectations, but often exceeding them, he said.

Hunter is a Whitehaven graduate and there are 32 former graduates on his staff.

“I’ve been in the Whitehaven community since 1975,” he said. “I started teaching because that is what I wanted to do. I was a math teacher and a coach. I taught Algebra I, Algebra II and Honors Geometry. I’ve always believed this is the most important work there is. Becoming a principal was a need, not an aspiration.”

Hunter’s wife had just lost her job at Sharp because the plant moved part of its operation to Mexico. The Hunters were expecting a baby and one income was not going to be enough.

“James Bacchus was principal here at Whitehaven, and he called me in to the office,” Hunter said. “He asked if I wanted to be an assistant principal. The position brought my salary up to $56,000. That made up for the loss of my wife’s salary, so I took the job. I was assistant principal, but I still taught some classes.”

Bacchus is in his third year as principal of Hamilton High. Hunter says he will always be indebted to Bacchus for giving him a chance.

The other two finalists for “Principal of the Year” were Robert Davis of Levi Elementary and Veda Turner of Craigmont Middle School.

Hunter will now compete for the statewide “Principal of the Year” award.   Candidates will be judged on the following:

  • Managing and motivating students and faculties.
  • Evoking high standards.
  • Demonstrating a commitment to excellence.
  • Implementing innovative programs.
  • Having a track record of exceptional gains in student learning.

State finalists will be announced by the Tennessee Department of Education in the fall.

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