FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Dr. Richard O’Malley, the superintendent of Florence 1 Schools, made surprise visits to Royal Elementary School and Moore Middle School on Wednesday to announce the district’s 2023-24 principal and assistant principal of the year.

April Leroy of Moore Middle School was named the principal of the year, while Marci Gatewood of Royall Elementary School was recognized as assistant principal of the year. 

“This award means a lot to me because it just represents the love that I have for my students the love that I have for my staff I appreciate the fact that people have recognized that,” Leroy said.

Leroy and Gatewood were nominated by a group of peers, including fellow principals, assistant principals and school administrators in Florence 1 Schools. Leroy has worked in the district since 2000 and Gatewood has worked in the district since 2005.

Leroy’s career path began as a teacher at Savannah Grove Elementary School. She later became the elementary curriculum coordinator at Savannah Grove, the assistant principal at Sneed Middle and principal at John W. Moore since 2020.

Under LeRoy’s leadership, John W. Moore Middle was designated last year as a Palmetto’s Finest School by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.

Assistant Superintendent Gregory Hall called Leroy an exceptional leader.

“Over the last few years, principal Leroy has championed the transition to the middle school concept,” Hall said. “And has led the students, staff, and community of John W. Moore Middle School continually forward. Student achievement continues to improve, and the accolades continue to be awarded including Palmetto’s Finest and the Blue-Ribbon Schools of Excellence Lighthouse award.

Hall said the science, technology, engineering, arts, and math initiative under her leadership has provided robust experiences and opportunities for all students at Moore Middle and has created a trajectory for success for all Moore Lions.

“We are very proud of Ms. Leroy and her leadership,” Hall said.

Other comments regarding Leroy’s leadership have come from members of the John W. Moore faculty and staff.  

Susan Lane, media specialist at John W. Moore, said Leroy genuinely cares about the well-being of her students both academically and personally. 

“She is constantly thinking about how to improve our procedures and processes to ensure their success,” Lane said.

Meanwhile, Royall Elementary Principal Julie Smith said Gatewood is deserving of the recognition.

“From the day she began teaching first grade at Royall until today,” Smith said. “She has consistently modeled a passion for excellence that is unequaled. While possessing the proven knowledge and talents of a successful leader, Gatewood’s contributions to our school and to our district go far beyond these qualities.’

“Leading by example, Ms. Gatewood has achieved her vision of inspiring and supporting others to become the best that they can be,’ smith continued. “She has consistently challenged herself and all those with whom she works to believe in the dream that all children are gifts to us and should be supported, challenged and loved.”

Royall Elementary fourth-grade teacher Catherine Denny called Gatewood the epitome of greatness.

“She’s a wonderful example of a caring leader,” Denny said. “She has been a mother to hundreds and an example for all. You will not find a more caring, genuine example of a wonderful human being. I hope to be just like her when I grow up!”

Michelle Wynn, assistant superintendent for K-5 instruction, said Gatewood is a “strong instructional leader, who helps impact the success of student achievement.

“Marci is deserving of this recognition,” she said.

O’Malley congratulated Gatewood and announced that she will now vie for the title of South Carolina Assistant Principal of the Year through the South Carolina School Administrators’ Principal of the Year awards program.

“Ms. Gatewood truly exemplifies our school’s motto,” Smith said. “She has had a proud past and she certainly has a very bright future.”

Taylor Ford is a digital journalist for News13. She joined the News13 team in January 2023. Taylor is a Florence native and covers the Pee Dee out of News13’s Florence Bureau. Read more of Taylor’s work here.