LAURINBURG — In a Friday morning convocation ceremony, hundreds of Scotland County Schools teachers, administrators, and staff packed the Scotland High School auditorium for a session of collective encouragement for the tasks that lie ahead in the new school year.
Following breakfast, teachers each received a card sporting a seed and a pithy statement of inspiration as they filed into the auditorium. Superintendent Ron Hargrave began the ceremony by recognizing staff from the system’s 14 schools to a crescendo of cheers as he called each school’s name.
Hargrave, named as superintendent this summer, resolved to improve in areas where the schools in the past have failed, primarily concerning students who dropped out rather than graduating as members of the class of 2014.
“There is a group of 83 students who decided that what we have to offer in Scotland County Schools was not enough for them,” he said. “I don’t know if it was because nobody built a relationship with them, nobody took the time to smile at them, nobody took the time to speak to them, I don’t know.”
Hargrave charged the teachers present with “growing greatness,” believing that each student has unlimited potential regardless of their circumstances and providing them with the tools to realize it.
“Whether you intend to or not, you will plant a seed,” he said. “I saw some seeds being planted (Thursday) at open houses with the smiles that were given out, with the hugs that were given, the handshakes that were shared.”
Hargrave also announced this year’s district-wide teacher and principal of the year: Sycamore Lane Middle School teacher Elisabeth Harrell and Sycamore Lane principal Rick Singletary, both stunned to tears by the recognition in front of the majority of the school system’s staff.
“Being recognized by your colleagues is an extra plus when they know what we do day in and day out,” said Singletary, who has been a Scotland County principal since 1992.
“I’ve always had a love for education, but I think the other part is a love for people in general and for young people in particular. You just do what you do; it’s just a way of life.”
Harrell begins her fourth year at Sycamore Lane and her 17th year teaching in Scotland and Richmond counties. This year, she will teach sixth grade math, but has also taught science and social studies in elementary schools.
“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and teaching seemed to me like the avenue that I should take in order to be able to make a difference,” she said.
Her commitment to building a unique relationship with each student, Singletary said, is one of Harrell’s most valuable traits as an educator.
“She’s the caliber that goes beyond the classroom in finding out what makes each student tick or what makes each student perform to their highest potential,” he said. “She is relentless until she finds out what makes him or her successful.”
As an elementary school teacher, Harrell frequented her students’ after school athletic events, dance recitals, and church programs in order to establish trust and know each child as an individual. Stories of her students’ continued growth after they leave her classroom are her greatest reward.
“I still have parents that come back to me when I meet them at the grocery store or wherever I am and they tell me that some strategy that I taught their child in fifth or sixth grade is helping them in college,” said Harrell. “You live for that moment. That’s what makes you keep doing it every day.”
Charlotte motivational speaker Kenston Griffin of Dream Builders Communication Inc. provided the event’s keynote address, encouraging inexperienced teachers among the crowd to team up with a positive mentor and singling out three individuals who have taught for more than 40 years.
Griffin advised school staff to focus on improvements in the students they see every day rather than test scores, statistics and averages.
“I want you to start measuring you against you versus what the state of North Carolina is doing,” he said. “When you start measuring you against you, you’ll understand that yesterday ended last night.”
Teachers of the year at other schools in the system were Sandra Brady at South Scotland Elementary, Hope Clark at Covington Street, Melody Ebert at I. Ellis Johnson, Lynne Hill at Pate Gardener, Maggie Liles at Washington Park, Richard Reese-Ritchey at North Laurinburg, Brooke Stone at Laurel Hill Elementatry, Betsy Tyner at Wagram Elementary, Charlotte Fairley-Lloyd at Spring Hill, Christi Liles at Carver, Jenny Teague at Scotland Early College, Martha Tremblay at Scotland High, and Barbara Simpson at Shaw Academy.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.