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Profile of a Rising Education Leader: CHCCS’s Own Eugenia Floyd

A year ago, Eugenia Floyd, a fourth grade teacher at Mary Scroggs Elementary School (MSES), was named the 2021 Burroughs Wellcome North Carolina Teacher of the Year (NCTOY), the first ever for a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools educator. As her tenure has wound down this spring, and she’s no longer crisscrossing the state every week, she is reflecting on the past and looking ahead to What’s Next.

Gina Floyd is a young Homegrown Hero who is poised to take her body of work to the next level, as she continues to network, speak at conferences and think deeply and boldly about the ways to positively impact more children and teachers in this district and in North Carolina.

When she was three years old, Floyd moved to Chapel Hill with her older brother, Eric, and mother, Lavern McAden, where they lived in the Lakeview Mobile Home park. When it was time to start school, Gina attended Pre-K/Headstart at Seawell Elementary before joining her brother at Ephesus Elementary. “When we were kids,” Floyd said, “the bus was always late, and that meant my Mom was always clocking in late at her job. After the situation didn’t improve, she called Transportation and told them, ‘I need to get to work but my kids can’t just stand out here waiting.’”

The solution? After learning the district didn’t have enough bus drivers, McAden took matters into her own hands and was hired by CHCCS Transportation. “She told them, Let me come drive a bus, I’ve got my license,” Floyd said. “She was always fighting for her children’s education. She embedded herself in this district, and she told us, No child should have to fight for their education.” McAden rose through a series of positions with CHCCS, from TA to lead custodian to IT Specialist, and Floyd said, “Everything she does, she gives it her all. My Mom is my foundational strength in all that I do . . . I’ve never wanted anyone clapping for me, just because I made it, like I’m an exception to the rule. Instead, I want the rules to change.“

Many years later, just a few short weeks ago on April 27, Floyd and her mother basked in the celebration at the White House reception for Teachers of the Year from every state in the country. They mingled with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, numerous national leaders in public education – and President and First Lady Biden.  Floyd has followed in her mother’s footsteps in many ways, but “giving it her all” is one of the most important inheritances.

Gina in DC

 From the early days as a talkative student at Ephesus Elementary who was identified as a   “struggling   reader,” to her years at Phillips Middle and East Chapel Hill High School, Floyd   experienced the full arc of Pre-K-12 education in CHCCS. She learned and often thrived in   many classrooms. In her 14 years, however, she only had three Black teachers.

 Teaching was not her ambition growing up, even as she studied history at the University of   North Carolina at Greensboro. “Having seen so few teachers of color,” she said, “No wonder I   ran from seeing myself as an educator.” She sometimes laughs and claims she really just       wanted to be a singer.

 But after earning her bachelor of arts degree in history, Floyd began working as a teacher   assistant at Morris Grove Elementary School. Her family and friends quickly observed she was a natural educator, and Floyd came to understand she had found her profession and her calling. She earned her K-6 Licensure at North Carolina Central University in 2013 and began teaching fourth grade at MSES that year. In 2019, Floyd earned her AIG Licensure from Elon University, followed by a Masters in Gifted Education in 2020.

Less than 10 years from licensure to NCTOY – a trajectory that is truly remarkable!

Floyd reiterates that her approach as a teacher has been shaped and informed by her own experience as a Black student. Too often, she encountered low expectations from her teachers. Her mother had often told her that she expected greatness from her, and she expected teachers to see that in her, too. “As a teacher, I strive to make sure my behavior and academic expectations are high for my students,” Floyd said in her Teacher of the Year portfolio submission. “I am a true believer that students will do what you expect them to do.”

In her NCTOY letter of recommendation for Floyd, Scroggs Principal Crystal Epps wrote, “(Gina) is an advocate for all her students, and she works tirelessly to make strides to close the achievement gap and dismantle systems and structures that operate with a fixed mindset.”

Floyd doesn’t romanticize or sugar coat the hard work and emotional toll teachers endure, day after day. After her first year as a teacher, she was ready to quit. “Mom said, ‘Gina, give it another chance.’” She listened to her mother again, but she certainly understands why so many young teachers leave the profession quickly. “How can we make the profession more attractive?” Gina asked. “What does support for our teachers look like?”

When naming the most impactful aspects of her NCTOY experience, Floyd noted the broad, continuing access to resources across the state and the country. She formed close relationships with the eight 2021 Regional Teachers of the Year, and during her visits to many of the public school districts across the state, she encountered unfamiliar but exciting practices in classrooms, central offices and boardrooms. She talked and listened for hours to other teachers, during her district visits, and during events and presentations from Teaching in Color, CREEDand the Center for Racial Equity in Education, among many others. The 2014-2015 NCTOY, James Ford, has become a friend and mentor whose equity work in education is a source of inspiration.  As she sharpens her advocacy and leadership skills, she will continue to serve as a board member of the NC Public School Forum and advisor to the NC State Board of Education.

“We know the pandemic exacerbated challenges for both students and teachers,” Floyd said. “There is an urgency for us as classroom teachers – our children come to us for instruction and social and emotional supports. We pivot to make it happen then and there. It’s real time and right now!”

As she looks to the future, the intensity of her focus on children hasn’t lessened, yet she now brings a similar intensity in her advocacy for teachers. The 2021 Regional Teachers of the Year have designed and built a Regional Advisory Council to elevate educator voice. They are developing new ways to negotiate solutions for the betterment of children and seeking pathways to ensure more equitable playing fields. Then they intend to take those solutions back to their districts and classrooms. “Our hands are stretching across this beautiful state,” Floyd said.

“We need to change the narrative around the profession of teaching,” Floyd said. “We have STEAM nights when we show them how to be engineers or mathematicians or the next Steve Jobs. But we hardly ever say, ‘You would be a great science teacher, a great social studies teacher.’ Having a livable wage is important, too. It’s so important to lift up our profession. We are the profession that creates all other professions!”

Floyd’s 1,000 Watt Smile has always been a distinctive characteristic of her powerful presence. Her smile is bright when she describes the ongoing strength, brilliance and empowerment she derives from her network of educators. “It is always such a joy to be with your peers, and I’ve been so proud to represent my state.”

“I always say, ‘Know your story and tell it!’” Floyd said. “I’m hopeful that coming home now, our district and Board of Education will be open to hearing what I’ve been learning.”

“When it comes to the demands of being TOY, we show up every day, after the pageantry of the announcement day is over. My body of work will continue forever, but I’m no longer a ‘Teacher on Loan,’” she said with her signature smile.

Gina at WH