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SANFORD – Six years ago, the Lee County Education Foundation’s “Head of Class” project – an incentive-based school achievement initiative for the benefit of Lee’s elementary schools – was formally introduced at Deep River Elementary School.

On Sept. 29, the sixth Head of Class prize will, in essence, come home.

Lee County Schools and the Foundation have announced that Deep River Elementary is the 2015-16 recipient of the award, which provides $50,000 to the school’s faculty and staff. The cash prize is based on a number of criteria, key among them measurable year-over-year improvements in academic performance.

Previous winners of the award are B.T. Bullock Elementary (2010-11), Greenwood Elementary (2011-12, 2014-15) and Edwards Elementary (2012-13, 2013-14).

“We are so honored at Deep River to earn this special recognition,” said Principal Amy Lundy. “Our staff and students worked so hard last year and this makes our hard work feel appreciated. Thank you to the Lee County Education Foundation for continuing to value our students and educators in Lee County.”

Former N.C. Lt. Gov. Dennis A. Wicker of Sanford, who spearheaded the formation of the Foundation – which has raised more than $1 million so far for its endowment – said he was pleased that Deep River was this year’s winner, given the project was officially announced at that school back in August 2010. Head of Class was awarded for the first time a year later.

“So it’s very special that they are now the recipient of this award,” he said of Deep River Elementary. “My heartiest congratulations to the principals, teachers, staff and students for this well-deserved recognition.”

Deep River students and staff will be recognized by the Foundation at a special ceremony on Sept. 29 at the school, according to Foundation Chairman Bill Horner III. Horner was elected to a two-year term as chairman of the Foundation in August, succeeding outgoing chairman Jamie Kelly.

“Head of Class continues to be one of the flagship public-private partnership projects in all of North Carolina,” Horner said. “Each employee at Deep River – from Principal Amy Lundy to the school’s custodial staff – will share in the $50,000 prize.”

“As someone who grew up in Lee County and went through Lee County schools, I am proud of this foundation and the results that we have achieved in making our schools stronger and bettering the education of our children,” Kelly said.

Greenwood Elementary finished second in the 2015-16 Head of Class competition, while Edwards Elementary finished third among the system’s seven elementary programs – making Deep River’s win its first.

LCS Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan made the announcement of the award at the school earlier this month.

“When I visited Deep River, the staff erupted with cheers and clapping when they found out they were the winning school,” Bryan said. “The Head of Class project has been a tremendous success for our elementary schools. Each year, the schools have a friendly competition that motivates everyone in the school building, from the students to the custodians, to provide an atmosphere for learning and hard work. Winning the Head of Class award is a really big deal for our school staff.”

Dr. Carol Chappell, LCS’ executive director of Instruction for Performance, assisted the foundation in creating the formula for determining the Head of Class winner. She called winning the prize “a great honor and accomplishment.”

“It represents comprehensive student academic success and is earned by every full time employee at the school,” she said.

Through donations from individuals and corporations, the Lee County Education Foundation and its endowment have the goal of working to reinforce the necessity of improving the academic performance of Lee County students as measured by the annual testing by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Since its inception, the Head of Class prize has been lauded by state and national leaders in education policy and used as a model of public-private incentive initiatives.

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