Northern Guilford High School Principal Janiese McKenzie credits her professional success, including being a semifinalist for Guilford County Schools' Principal of the Year award this year, to her students.
"Every student who overcomes odds and circumvents barriers is a success," the veteran educator said. "The relationships with my students are truly my greatest asset and professional success. I love them and treat them as if they are my own, and I think they feel that."
McKenzie has spent 21 years in education and was honored when Guilford County Schools announced in late August that she was one of eight semifinalists for the district's Principal of the Year award.
"For me, the biggest honor was in the nomination," she said. "A retired guidance counselor nominated me and she has been in education a very long time. To get a nomination from someone who has been around so long and worked for several principals is an honor."
The process she underwent after being nominated was a bit "daunting," McKenzie said. "You have to essentially write eight one-page essays in the application. Out of respect for her (the guidance counselor who nominated her), I went ahead and completed it."
McKenzie said her mother, who was an educator for 34 years, influenced her decision to go into the field of education.
"She was at Guilford Primary when it was still open and I remember that she would bring one particular young man home on the weekend because his situation was dire," McKenzie said.
"He was like my little brother for a while. I saw the influence that she had upon him in particular. I just thought that one day it would be really cool to be like my mom."
But McKenzie didn't initially set out to be an educator.
"I went to college to be an orthopedist because I had so many issues with some joint stuff," she explained. "I had a bad ankle - and I played basketball - so I was really drawn to orthopedics."
But during her junior year of college, McKenzie tore her ACL and required major surgery.
"While I was getting my stitches out, I nearly passed out," she said. "I thought, 'I can't do this.'"
Shortly after that, McKenzie said she had a college professor, Dr. Cliff Schimmels, who wrote books for educators about teaching middle school students.
"I loved and respected him," she said. "He would come to our basketball games, and after one of them he asked me when I was going to go into education... That's what I ended up doing. I wanted to teach biology and I wanted to coach."
After graduating from college, McKenzie received a call from someone at Western Guilford about a position teaching biology.
"I said, 'Absolutely!'" she said. "That's where it all began."
She later worked as a curriculum facilitator, and then one day her principal suggested she look into the PTLA program (Piedmont Triad Leadership Academy).
"It was a program for aspiring leaders in Guilford County," McKenzie explained.
The group she joined included 20 educators and was partnered through UNCG, with some of the university's professors providing the training. When she finished the program, she was ready to begin her administrative career.
"Working with the students is my favorite part (about being in education)," McKenzie said. "In a classroom, I might impact 150 students. In administration I can cross paths with 1,350 students (Northern's current enrollment). The kids are truly why I do what I do and I love them like they are my own. I also like to work with teachers, support them and help them become better teachers."