‘Every little seed’ Principal McCotter heads FVHS through pandemic, reshapes Bengal Blvd.

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Abigail Lapp and Nikolai Kutsch, Opinion and News Editors

Fuquay-Varina, NC – On Sept. 30, 2021, raising a supersized pair of red scissors, FVHS principal Terrance McCotter sliced into an orange banner reading “Fuquay-Varina High School,” held by a line of local leaders including WCPSS Superintendant Cathy Moore and then Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne.

Principal Terrance McCotter cuts a ceremonial ribbon on Sept. 30, 2021 to celebrate the opening of the new Fuquay-Varina High School campus. (@FuquayVarinaHS on Twitter)

Yet, that moment marking the monumental move back to Bengal Boulevard was the culmination of two years as principal, following sporadic shifts from Willow Spring to remote work and back again, eventually landing at the new FVHS campus. 

Needless to say, emotions ran high as the year commenced with an in-person staff meeting.

“It felt like everything just came to a head,” said McCotter. “It was like ‘Wow, we have come so far, experienced a lot and dealt with a lot, but we’re here, and we’re back on Bengal Boulevard, and we’re gonna do great things. We’re gonna make our mark.” 

For McCotter, the ‘Quay was never too far away

Coming from a family of educators, McCotter had always had a passion for learning and helping others whenever he could, including as a teenager and young adult in his hometown. After moving to Fuquay-Varina from Raleigh at age 9, McCotter had always viewed the town as his true home. 

“I loved all of my math classes [at FVHS] when I was a student here,” said McCotter. “That was one of my easiest subjects. I always had a passion for math, so I decided to study mathematics education at North Carolina Central.” While he wasn’t originally planning on teaching when he began college, McCotter quickly realized how he could combine his passions for helping others and math.

“I worked at the YMCA here in this area,” said McCotter, reflecting on his time while in school. “I always just had a passion for working with children, and students, and encouraging and being inspirational and helping where I could. That never left me. So by the time I was going to graduate from Central, I started deciding ‘You know what, I think I’m going to teach.’ And, ‘Why not teach math?’”

 After his own high school, FVHS, provided McCotter the opportunity to return to his school as a math teacher, he officially began his career in education.

From there, McCotter eventually transitioned into administration, where he worked as an assistant principal at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, and later as principal at Fuquay-Varina Middle School from 2016 to 2019. 

Ushering in the McCotter Era 

On Sept. 4, 2019, McCotter became principal of Fuquay-Varina High School, succeeding former principal Jonathan Enns (2014-2019) and interim principal Thomas Dixon (2019).

“It wasn’t hard to come back,” said McCotter. “I enjoyed my time here with my teachers and I had a great relationship with them.” He was even able to reunite with some teachers that once taught him when he was a student at FVHS, including Deborah Clarke and Lance Edwards from the PE department, Rebecca Subat from the science department, and other teachers who have more recently retired, including Susan Terry, also from the science department, among a few others.  

 “[McCotter was] very polite [and] a really good football player,” said Terry, who taught McCotter in honors biology.

Terry recalled an anecdote McCotter’s predecessor shared about one of his first graduation ceremonies as principal. “I started shaking hands and I wasn’t listening to Ms. Barber call all the kids,” Enns explained. “My hands started getting tired and I was only on the Cs. And then my hand cramped and we were only on the Ls.” 

When McCotter’s birthday arrived, Terry found the perfect gag gift to help McCotter avoid running into the same problem Enns had encountered as principal. “I gave him a hand strengthener,” Terry laughed. “He has a really good sense of humor. I tease him a little bit.” 

“Having spent my entire career at Fuquay, getting to retire under one of my favorite former students was really an honor,” said Terry, who wrapped up 30 years at the school in 2021. “There really are not a lot of teachers who spend their entire career at one school and probably even fewer that can say that their boss is one of their former students.”

Starting out as Principal in the temporary FVHS location in Willow Spring, McCotter made a large effort to build relationships with all of the staff members. “My thing was all about connections and being supportive,” said McCotter. “That was helpful in my transition [into Principal] in letting all of the staff and students here know that I’m here to help.”

“I like his leadership style,” reflected FVHS media specialist Allison McAuley. “I think he allows people to see their own leadership qualities and then he kind of encourages you to exercise those. And that’s the mark of a good leader.”

Unconstrained by his first-floor office, McCotter aims to connect with his school. “I try my best to circulate,” said McCotter. “I want you to be able to get to know me, ask questions. Being present at your events after school as much as I can.”

This openness to interaction is not lost on McCotter’s colleagues. “Even if [he’s] going to another classroom, he will pop in, say hello, [and] check in on us,” said McAuley. “That makes you feel valued when you work with someone who sees you in your role, but also sees you as a human being outside of your school role.” 

Enns, the former principal of FVHS and now the WCPSS Southwestern Area Superintendent, was also optimistic and excited about McCotter’s fresh start at the school. “McCotter was, and is, a consummate professional,” said Enns. “I remember observing Mr. McCotter when he was teaching math years ago when he was a teacher at FVHS and I was an Assistant Principal. He was a talented teacher who continued to grow professionally, ultimately tapping into his leadership potential and beginning his journey as a successful administrator.”

However, just as things were starting to become more routine and comfortable, the world shut down. “I came in with high expectations and eager,” stated McCotter. “Then the pandemic happened.” With this, the immediate goals as new Principal changed from being mainly education-focused, to learning to maneuver around COVID-19 and answering the question, “How can we make sure we get through this together?”

Gears had to be shifted in order to enable all of this. “We needed to have plans in place to make sure we implement this new mode of learning [virtually]. We had to make sure everybody was okay.” While the new manner of teaching was definitely difficult, it wasn’t impossible. “We had to figure out how we were going to get through it.”

Return to Bengal Boulevard 

Eventually, McCotter and the rest of the FVHS community did. After a year and a half of virtual and blended learning, the school finally was able to begin fully in-person classes once again. Not just this, but the school was able to return to the original campus on Bengal Blvd, the location where McCotter himself attended high school. “It was a sense of pride,” McCotter commented on returning to the school’s original home. “There were emotions for knowing that we were able to be back on our campus and be us again.”

Often sighted holding doors to welcome students and even serving up lunch entrees in the cafeteria, McCotter seeks to meet everyday campus needs. “We’ve had to help out where we could due to shortages,” explained McCotter. “Keeping the lunch line going and all that, too. That’s what we needed, so I don’t mind taking care of what needs to be done.” 

Drawing upon his own years at FVHS, McCotter regularly offers an educator’s wisdom to current students. “Enjoy your time as a student in high school,” advised McCotter. “Enjoy, enjoy, because it goes fast. Also, don’t take it for granted. Take advantage of every opportunity that you have: in your studies and in school, but also in your extracurriculars and co-curriculars you want to be involved in.” 

Having received support and guidance at every stage of his career, McCotter touched on the role of mentors. “Listen when adults are trying to help and support,” relayed McCotter. “Just listen and hear them out because it may not be exactly the thing that you need to help you get to a certain point, but every little seed that’s planted within you is going to help and shape you into the adult you need to be.”