Courtney Wilburn White plains Middle School principal

White Plains Middle School principal Courtney Wilburn poses with a sign inside the school entrance. Courtney Wilburn has been named the Middle School principal of the year by the Alabama Association of Middle School Principals. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Courtney Wilburn hesitated to take the vacant job she has now filled for the past seven years, she said on Wednesday.

That job? White Plains Middle School principal.

“I am an elementary teacher by trade and was the assistant principal, and I was quite happy,” she said. “When they told me about the move to the middle school principal position, I was hesitant, my hand was a bit forced,  but it was the best move I could ever make,” she said.  

On Monday, Wilburn was surprised to learn that she’d been named Alabama Middle School Principal of the Year by the Alabama Association of Middle School Principals.

“I had no idea this was happening,” she said. “I’m very humbled by it. I’m extremely honored, but it’s much more a team effort. It’s the faculty, staff, students, parents, not one person alone could create something like we’ve got at the middle school.”

Wilburn was raised in Calhoun County, attending Anniston City Schools from first grade through her senior year, she said. She went on to study education at Jacksonville State University and after graduating took the first job she interviewed for at White Plains Elementary School in 2001.

She became an assistant principal at the elementary school before stepping into her current position at the middle school, which serves about 450 students in fifth through eighth grades.

Wilburn was previously named Calhoun County Principal of the Year in 2012 and was named middle school principal of the year for the district, which contains eight counties, earlier this school year, she said.

“The region winners were sent to the state conference in Orange Beach and were each interviewed there,” she said. “They asked what you hope people remember about you when you leave the position, how do you feel you’ve made the greatest impact, and are teachers surprised when they see you in the classroom.”

Calhoun County Schools Superintendent Joe Dyar said on Wednesday that Wilburn fit all of the qualities the association looked for in a principal.

“The association looks for innovation, differentiation, having a servant’s attitude, being a visionary, someone who can make difficult decisions, someone who is a tireless worker and goes above and beyond to help young children,” he said. “Courtney Wilburn fits all of those.”

Dyar applauded Wilburn for her drive to serve the students as a whole but also the individual needs of each student.

“Courtney is extremely student-oriented,” he said. “She’s always looking inside each child to find a strategy to meet their needs, behaviourally, academically, physically. She always drills down but also has the human experience to know the child’s needs.”

Dyar has known for about a month Wilburn won the award but was asked to keep it a secret.  

“She is a teacher at heart, very organized and structured, and she’s simply excelled in this setting,” he said. “With her background and work ethic, she has simply become a leader and taken that school to the highest level.”

Wilburn is not the first to win the district honor, Dyar said.

“But she is the first from Calhoun County to be named middle school principal of the year for the entire state,” he said. “She’ll get to go to D.C., meet the president, and represent Alabama.”

​Staff writer Kirsten Fiscus: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @kfiscus_star.