MSU alum named 2022 MI Principal of the Year

April 7, 2022

On the banks of the Red Cedar, there is a school that is known to all. And it was on the banks of the Red Cedar River that Nicole Nuckolls Carter, TCRT ’99 and M.A. ’01 (Curriculum & Instruction), found her calling at a college renowned for producing educators who are prepared to lead. Now, Carter is being recognized for her own leadership: She was named Michigan Principal of the Year by the MI Association of Secondary School Principals and the MI Association of Student Councils and Honor Societies.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Carter.

Carter originally came to MSU with aspirations of being a lawyer. Yet, there was an undeniable pull to the College of Education. She saw a flyer for SUCCEED, a volunteer program sponsored by former Professor Lois Bader aimed at helping elementary school students learn to read. That transformative experience of watching a student’s literacy grow solidified her career goals.

“I look at it like I’m the lead learner here,” said Carter, who is oversees more than 200 staff and 2,000 students as principal of Novi High School. “I’m responsible for having a clear vision and sharing that vision with the staff so they can implement it with fidelity in the classroom. We want every student who walks into this space to feel respected, valued, honored, like they belong. Students are at the core of every decision we make.”

Path to success

Core to Carter’s own mantra—”Service Over Self”—is remembering where she came from and how she got to where she is today.

Carter comes from a family of educators. Her grandfather, Charles Butler Nuckolls, was principal of the Booker T. Washington School in Ashland, KY for 40 years prior to desegregation. Her parents, Gene and Shirley Nuckolls, were also educators. Gene’s career spanned 40 years, including serving as principal of Saginaw High School and assistant superintendent of Saginaw Public Schools in Michigan. Shirley had a 35-year career, including as a teacher, assistant principal and guidance counselor within Saginaw Public Schools.

“Teaching is by far the most rewarding career pathway that anyone could ever choose,” said Carter, who has spent 23 years as part of Novi High School and transitioned into her “dream role” as principal in 2014.

MSU’s Teacher Preparation Program was the ideal program to help Carter begin her career, and she still uses lessons learned in her work today. For example, the MSU program stressed the importance of curriculum that reflects the lives, interests and cultural diversity of students in the classroom. Sometimes that effort is as big as clubs—Carter served as the “mother” of Students Promoting Unity and Diversity at NHS—and sometimes it is as simple as Carter’s request that teachers greet each student as they enter the classroom to give the space a humanizing feel.

I went through MSU’s program. I know the difference the internship makes. So when we look through teaching candidates, I know MSU’s program is really strong. We do our best to recruit the best, and the best come from MSU.

Nicole Carter

It is because of these initiatives, and more, that Carter was chosen for the statewide honor. The annual recognition celebrates one awardee who demonstrates collaborative leadership, involvement in curriculum, instruction and assessment and a personal involvement with the school community. Later this year, Carter will represent the state during the national Principal of the Year competition through the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Carter was surprised with the honor during a Novi Community School District board meeting. Watch the surprise here. From L to R: Ruheen Qadeer, NHS student; Nicole Carter; Wendy Zdeb, MASSP Executive Director; and Danielle Crossley, ELA teacher and senior class student council advisor. Photo courtesy of Lydia C. Cadena, MASSP.

Carter’s eye toward the future is another reason she was chosen for the honor.

“Without her help, we wouldn’t have been able to embody the leaders we are,” said Ruheen Qadeer, a student at NHS and the Executive Board President, in a MASSP news story. Qadeer nominated Carter for the award. “She encourages us to make a positive difference in our school culture and provides us with the tools we need to do so.”