BENNETTSVILLE, S.C. — Marlboro Academy has a new headmaster in place for the start of the new school year.
Joe Critcher assumed that role in July, after retiring from the Scotland County school system with 32 years in the field of education.
If there’s just one thing he would like parents and students to know, it’s this: He’s excited to be there, and thrilled to be working with a board and faculty that are just as excited as he is about the school.
Critcher is originally from Boone, but has been in this area since college, when he played baseball at St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
After graduating from college in 1983, he taught and coached for three years in the Cumberland County schools, then 12 years in Hoke County.
Baseball once again brought him back to Laurinburg, as he spent four years as the head baseball coach at St. Andrews. For the last 13 years, he worked in administration in the Scotland County school system, most recently as principal of Scotland Early College High School.
Living and working just across the state line, he had been aware of Marlboro Academy before, even giving baseball and softball lessons to a number of the school’s athletes. When his granddaughter began attending, it just made him all the more interested.
“I was always intrigued by the school. I’ve heard nothing but good about it,” he said. “When my granddaughter came here, I learned even more. I was very impressed with the school and the board, and their vision for the school.”
So when he learned that the previous headmaster, Gary Dwyer, was leaving, it seemed a perfect fit for him.
“I know Gary, and he is an outstanding person,” said Critcher. “I feel real fortunate to follow him.”
While the private school environment is new for him, he feels his time at Scotland County Early College High School helped prepare him, as it has a similar feel to a private school. It is an innovative concept where students attend for five years, at the end of which they have not just their high school diplomas, but also two-year degrees from Richmond Community College.
One of Critcher’s first orders of business at Marlboro Academy was to meet with all of the faculty and staff, some of whom he knew prior to becoming headmaster.
“Every staff member is very excited to be here,” he said. “The thing that impresses me is how dedicated they are to the students and the school. The first thing out of their mouths is, they love being here, they love the students. That was the selling point for me.”
He has developed a list of objectives for the school, though he is the first to admit that, “there’s not a lot to fix here.”
“Nothing is broken,” he said. “The school is in great shape. I just want to tweak some things and build on what’s already here.”
His objectives are:
— Partner more with Northeastern Technical College and Richmond Community College on dual enrollment, so that when students go on to a four-year school, they are not starting from scratch. The school already offers some dual enrollment, but he wants to build upon it.
— Upgrade the school for safety. He has met with officials from the Sheriff’s Office and plans to work with them on cameras and other security issues. “My number-one job as headmaster is to make sure every child is as safe as possible,” he said.
— Build up the school’s music department, including new music appreciation classes that will be taught, possibly as a dual enrollment course.
— Build up athletic training with a weights/fitness room not just for athletes, but for all students to use.
— Reinstate a program to provide transportation for students who live in North Carolina, and look into the possibility of running a van to Cheraw as well.
— Expand the English and math departments thanks to some extra positions the board of directors has given him.
— Work on improving ACT and SAT scores, starting at the elementary level and including online classes through the S.C. Department of Instruction.
Critcher is married to the former Bunny Rush of Bennettsville and has two children: Elizabeth, 27, and Alison, 20, as well as three stepchildren: John, Hannah and Paul, triplets who are 23. He also has five grandchildren, ranging in age from nine years to two months. One granddaughter, Allisa, is a fourth grader at Marlboro Academy.
The new school year begins for staff on Monday, with students returning to the classrooms on Wednesday. Enrollment at the K-12 school is nearly 250.