Itawamba Agricultural High School Principal Trae Wiygul said the success of every single student is important to him.
“This is my family,” he said, extending his arms. “We’re all family here; it’s one of this school’s greatest strengths.”
The son of former Itawamba County Superintendent of Education F.G. Wiygul, the Fulton high school principal said that a love of education is in his bloodstream, flowing along with the cells.
“We have the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life,” he said of educators. “We have the best job in the world.”
Being the son of a high school football coach, Wiygul said he did a lot of bouncing around in his early school days. He’s attended school at both Mooreville and Smithville before graduating high school from IAHS in 1991. After that, he spent two years at Itawamba Community College before earning his undergraduate degree in education from Mississippi State University. He later earned his master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Mississippi.
Wiygul began his career in education at Mooreville in 1996, where he taught Mississippi Studies and geography while coaching football and golf. He taught at Dorsey Attendance Center for three years before being named the school’s assistant principal. Later, he was made principal of the school. In 2006, he was named assistant principal and athletic director of IAHS; in 2008, he became principal.
“Education is all I’ve ever known,” Wiygul said. “I’ve been going through school doors since I was three years old.”
That heritage, he said, played a significant role in shaping who he is today.
“I kind of wanted to be just like he was, to follow in his footsteps,” Wiygul said of his father.
But it was more than just lineage that made Wiygul want to become an educator; it was the desire to make a difference in people’s lives. He said he made some poor decisions back in his high school days and would like to prevent current high school students from doing the same.
“As a principal, you get to be a part of the entire school,” Wiygul said. “You’re involved in everything; you’re a whole, not a part.”
That’s the way he likes it, Wiygul said.
“Everything matters in administration; everything is important,” he said, adding, “I like to dabble in everything.”
IAHS’s greatest strength?
One word: Pride.
“We want to be the best we can possibly be,” Wiygul said of his school … faculty, staff, teachers, parents and students. “We’re always going to work toward that goal.”
The principal said there’s a sense of ownership and competitiveness at the school that he believes rivals any other school found in the state.
“If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right,” he said. “I want our kids to be competitive. I don’t want us to take a backseat to anybody.”
And there’s a lot to be proud of, he added — a long history of successful students who have walked those hallways and studied in those classrooms. Off the top of his head, Wiygul rattled off a list of successful athletes, scholars and, most recently, Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick as graduates of IAHS.
“We can tell our kids they can be these people, too,” Wiygul said. “Our past students have opened doors for our present day kids to walk through.”
Like most principals in the county, Wiygul cited the inevitable change to the statewide Common Core Standards as one of the biggest challenges facing the high school’s students and teachers.
But speaking more in generalities, Wiygul said one of the toughest battles teachers currently face is just keeping students engaged, ensuring they graduate.
“Especially in their senior year, apathy tends to kick in for a lot of students,” he said, adding that a lot of students have to help out at home or work multiple jobs to make ends meet. “It’s important that they understand they need to just stick with it and get it done.”
Most important aspect of a good principal?
“Be passionate about your job,” Wiygul said of being a principal. “You have to make sure the kids know you love them and you want what’s best for them … that you want them to be successful both inside and outside the classroom.”
Wiygul believes in treating every child as his own … as if his or her success or failure was a reflection of himself.
“I don’t want there to ever be a doubt that I care about these students,” he said. “I’ve got four kids that go home with me every day, but I also have 594 others.”
They’re all important, he said.