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Wilks-Kilgore Principal of the Year state semifinalist

Friday, April 9, 2021
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Courtesy Photo

Cypress Springs Elementary School Principal Mary Wilks-Kilgore, a semifinalist for Louisiana Principal of the Year, is seen visiting a fifth grade classroom where Allyson Whitaker and Zachary Clark complete an ELA task.

While a classroom teacher, Mary Wilks-Kilgore decided to obtain a degree in educational leadership just to have it under her belt. That extra tool came in handy when she was named interim principal at Cypress Springs Elementary School during the summer of 2017.

Finding school leadership to be a good fit, Kilgore then applied for the position the following spring and was named CSE Principal in 2018.

Just over two years later, Kilgore has now been named a semifinalist for Louisiana Principal of the Year.

“When I found out I was a semifinalist, I was just shocked and couldn’t believe it,” Kilgore said. “But it truly is an honor to receive state recognition for Lincoln Parish and Cypress Springs, even if I still can’t believe it.”

Kilgore said she has been blessed with mentors who have been instrumental in her getting this far. Along with several other family members who were educators, her mother Betty Wilks was a 34- year education veteran and key influence.

She also said many educators in her faith family at St. Duty C.M.E. Church of Arcadia, as well as retired Lincoln Parish School District leader Willie Washington, were influential as well. Yet there are others she keeps close for those moments only school leaders can relate to.

“I have a pipeline of local principals, some retired, I call on,” Kilgore said. “I reach out to them for advice, a listening ear, and/or support. It helps when principals can talk to other principals.”

She said being a principal is a job no one can truly understand unless one has walked in those shoes. She cites her time as part of the National Institute for School Leadership when the instructors would speak about context. That transformative experience helped her discover that context matters.

“Nobody can understand what is expected of me at Cypress Springs Elementary School unless they are actually leading this school in this school year and dealing with everything that is being thrown my way,” Kilgore said. “This is not a one-sizefits-all job. What works for other principals and other schools may not work for me and Cypress Springs.”

The job has provided challenges like having difficult decisions with staff and faculty, overseeing virtual and in-person teaching and learning, and making decisions based on all the facts, something those outside the facts might not understand. Yet in spite of the challenges, Kilgore has found much to love about being a principal.

“I love when teachers share student success stories,” Kilgore added. “I love when teachers are strengthening their areas of needed improvement. And I love having an administrative team that truly has the best interests of the school and students at heart.”

Kilgore aspires for CSE to continue growing in its greatness and longs to see the school’s performance score finally match the “Grade A” efforts of its hardworking students and dedicated teachers. She also hopes she can serve as a role model to others who are interested in becoming a school leader, offering words of wisdom for those with an eye on the principal’s position.

“Balance helps you be your best, so take breaks and rest as needed,” Kilgore said. “Reflection is necessary, so take time to think back on the events of the day and self-assess what took place. And it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of others when making decisions. You need to think like a student, teacher, parent, administrator, or community member might think. It’s all important.”

And then there is that Louisiana Principal of the Year competition. Kilgore can’t help but be excited.

“I’m not feeling any nerves, but there is some pressure,” Kilgore said. “It would be fabulous to move to the finalist round.”