Neal Middle School principal Michael Fuga has been named the Durham Public Schools Principal of the Year for 2018.
Fuga became principal of Neal Middle School in 2015. He started his teaching career in Durham at the school, but left to pursue his master’s degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and start on the path to administration, according to a district news release.
“Returning to Neal was a choice I made because every student and community deserves a school in which they can believe,” Fuga said. “At that time, Neal had not achieved desired levels of success and had a challenging reputation that needed to be rebuilt. My mission and vision is to transform Neal into a school Durham sees as a safe, positive place; one where students graduate stronger emotionally, socially and academically,” he stated.
Fuga has implemented strategies at Neal to help achieve his vision. The data showed Neal’s eighth-grade students were not meeting academic growth expectations and comprised the majority of the school’s discipline issues. Fuga implemented single-gender teams in eighth grade. During the 2016-17 school year, the all-boys, all-girls and mixed-gender teams made major academic gains.
Students showed up to a 10 percent increase in math proficiency (performing at or above grade level), more than a 24 percent increase in English language arts proficiency, and almost a 50 percent increase in science proficiency.
On top of that, discipline incidents of eighth-graders dropped significantly, with only a third of the incidents reported in the school’s sixth and seventh grades.
While gains have been made, Fuga said, “Until every student exceeds their academic growth and every teacher maximizes their instructional potential, we have work to do.”
Fuga has worked in education for 14 years, spending five years as a teacher, two as an assistant principal and a principal for the past seven years. He earned a doctorate in educational leadership at UNC-CH as well as a master’s degree in school administration. He began his teaching career in Pennsylvania after earning a bachelor’s degree from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania.
The other two finalists for the award were Michelle Bell, principal at Parkwood Elementary, and William Logan, principal at Hillside High.
Fuga will go on to represent Durham Public Schools at the regional level of the state’s Principal of the Year program.