Fort Middle School Service Learning Magnet Academy principal Sonja Matthews-Coaxum is one of three finalists for the state Middle School Principal of the Year award.
The Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals announced Coaxum as a finalist along with Chris Lemieux of Pickens Middle School in Jasper and Wanda Law of North Gwinnett Middle School in Suwanee.
According to the association's criteria, the award "recognizes principals that excel in educational leadership, resolving complex problems, developing self and others, and community service."
The finalists were chosen after submitting an application and being interviewed by the selection committee. The winner will represent Georgia in the national competition.
Coaxum said Friday that she doesn't know who nominated her, but she is grateful because it gave her the chance to fulfill the promise she made to her mother, Clara Mae Matthews, before she died in April 2012. That year, Coaxum also was nominated by an anonymous supporter, but she didn't fill out the application because she wanted to devote that free time to her mother, who was battling cancer.
"She made me promise that if I ever got the opportunity again that I would go for it," Coaxum said. "So completing the application was for my mother. When I hit the submit button, tears went down my face.
"It was the Lord above and my dear mother that put me in this place. Win, lose or draw, I'm still the principal of the year at the best middle school in the world."
Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis called Coaxum "a very dynamic, driven and student-focused principal. You put those things together, and you have a very capable and effective principal."
Coaxum is a 22-year educator. The Bibb County School District named her the Most Outstanding Young Educator in 1992, when she was a special-education teacher. After teaching in MCSD from 1994-2003, she was assistant principal at Harris County Carver Middle School for a year before returning to Muscogee to be coordinator of the now-closed Teenage Parenting Center. She was principal of the district's now-closed evening school for a year before becoming Fort's principal in 2007.
Coaxum, a native of Buena Vista, Ga., is a 1988 graduate of the former Tri-County High School. She has earned degrees from Savannah State, Georgia College, Columbus State and Troy. She started working on her doctorate in an online program through Walden University, but stopped to tend to her mother.
So a doctorate is another achievement, Coaxum said, that she is dedicated to attaining in honor of the woman who sacrificed for her.