Rocky River High School Principal Ericia Turner attended UNC Chapel Hill on a basketball scholarship for two years before transferring to North Carolina A&T University. She continued to play basketball at A&T while she earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education. Turner continued to study physical education at graduate school, earning her master’s in physical education from the same school.
Since she was very young, Turner knew she wanted to go into education. “I remember as a little girl playing school all the time,” she says. “It was just inevitable for me to become a teacher. I’ve always wanted to teach and coach.”
Tuner began her career in education in 1999 teaching physical education at Parkland High School in Winston-Salem. However, an unexpected tragedy that same year altered her life and career trajectory. In May of 2000, one of Turner’s 5-month twin sons died of SIDS while in daycare. The tragic incident led Turner home to Catawba County, where she had attended high school. Turner worked as a PE teacher and coach at Independence High School from 2001-2007 and Mallard Creek High School from 2007-2009.
While at Mallard Creek, Turner was also working on her school administration degree at Gardner Webb University. Turner felt strongly that administration was the way to make a bigger impact. “I just felt like I wanted to make a bigger impact on students,” says Turner. “I enjoyed coaching, but I always felt like something was missing. There was something else that I needed to do. My son died in somebody else’s care. He was at daycare when he died, so when I have other people’s children in my care, it’s real to me. It’s more than just a job.”
Turner finished her administrative internship and coursework in 2008, when the budget crisis hit Mecklenburg County, forcing Mecklenburg County Schools to make many cuts. Turner left the district in 2009 to become Assistant Principal and Athletic Director at Newton Conover High School in Newton, NC. In 2012, she was promoted to Director of Athletics for the Alamance-Burlington School system, where she remained for a year. In 2013 she accepted an assistant principal position at Statesville High School in order to care for her mother. Turner remained at Statesville High School for a year before assuming the principalship at Statesville Middle.
Turner is new to Rocky River High School as of this past July, after seven years away, Turner had a strong desire to return to Mecklenburg County. “It’s just a different atmosphere,” says Turner. “I’ve had so much support from the district level since I’ve been here. People would kill for that kind of support in other school districts. I listen to some horror stories in my doctoral program some of the things that they go through. I don’t feel that stress here.”
The diverse demographics of Rocky River High School as well as the opportunity to be back in High School were also attractive to Turner. “It has not disappointed me,” says Turner. “I’m happy to be here. We have great students here at Rocky River High School.”
Those students are one of Turner’s favorite things about being the principal at Rocky River. “I love inspiring students to do things that people don’t expect them to and letting them know that they are designed for excellence and destined for greatness. That greatness lies within, they just need someone to pull it out of them.”
With a full day that begins at 6:45 am and can extend to 11:00 pm in football season, Turner finds the biggest challenge of being a school principal to be time. As a single mother of two boys, Turner finds it difficult to find the time to do all the things she wants to accomplish in a day.
Turner has big goals for Rocky River, which has sometimes suffered from poor public opinion. “You hear all the negative,” she says. “A lot of people want to say negative things about the school, the behavior of the children. My first order of business was to change the culture here.”
In part, Turner has accomplished this through some simple policy changes, like having students report to homeroom or directly to first period in the morning instead of the gym. However, Turner mainly attributes her success at bringing about change at Rocky River to a partnership between her and the students.
“We’ve set some goals here for the first quarter, and the student government was instrumental in helping me set those goals,” says Turner. This quarter’s academic goal was for 15% of the student population to make the A-B honor roll. At the time of this interview, Rocky River students were anxiously awaiting Turner’s announcement, which would allow them to use their cell phones at lunch.
Students who make the A-B honor roll will also be rewarded with a “Food Truck Friday” celebration. “The kids are responding well to the expectation because they have some say-so,” says Turner. “They’re responding well to the expectation because this is what they want.”
Turner is also proud to brag about all the great things her students are accomplishing at Rocky River. Rocky River has a strong drama program and recently hosted the National North Carolina Theater Conference. Its ROTC program recently won first place in a drill competition at Butler High School. Rocky River’s students are also passionate about helping others in the community.
Earlier this year they had a supply drive for those displaced by the Louisiana floods. They currently have several student groups involved in “Operation Lumberton Love Boxes,” which assembles shoe boxes of holiday gifts for children displaced by the floods. Rocky River’s goal is to send at least 100 boxes to Lumberton. “Our students are really involved, and they believe in taking care of each other and taking care of the community,” says Turner. “I think people need to know the great things that our kids are involved in and doing at Rocky River.”
Turner believes in high expectations for both her students and herself. “You can say whatever, but you have to be very intentional in showing people that you believe in them and the expectations you have of them,” says Turner. “I place those same expectations on myself as a principal. I always tell them that I want to be a better principal than I was yesterday. I want to be a better mother than I was yesterday, a better daughter than I was yesterday. So that’s the attitude I come to work with every day: what can I do better than I did yesterday? It starts from the top.”