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- With the leadership @HCPSNC @BlueRidgeCC, there is nothing keeping this community from being not just the best in North Carolina, but the best in the nation. #nced
- Take in the magic of the first day of school. There is nothing quite like it. Students don't sleep. Teachers don't sleep. Principals don't sleep. It is the best combination of both nervous and excited. #nced
There is nothing quite like the first day of school. Students don’t sleep. Teachers don’t sleep. Principals don’t sleep. It is the best combination of both nervous and excited.
Henderson County Public Schools garnered my attention long before Mark Garrett showed up as the superintendent. Summer learning was leading to reimagining school. The early college is among the best high schools in the state — and it improved student academic performance during COVID-19. Leader in Me is in a lot of the schools. The partnership that exists with Blue Ridge Community College is important to the region.
But when Garrett was named superintendent earlier this year, it moved this district up on my radar by a lot. He is all about making decisions based on what’s in the best interests of students.
With President Laura Leatherwood leading Blue Ridge Community College and David Stegall as chief of staff, there is nothing keeping this community from being not just the best in North Carolina, but among the best in the nation.
Take in the magic with me of the first day of school.
It’s good to be real
I met Garrett at Etowah Elementary at 4:45 a.m. for the early morning news. When asked what he is looking forward to, he said, “trying to see how we can best serve our kids.”
Throughout the day, as Garrett visited 10 elementary schools, parents and educators tell him they saw him on television and give him props for doing a good a job.
It reminds me how much people want to be proud of their schools.
Garrett is not just the superintendent. He is also a dad. Our second stop was dropping his son, Luke, a fourth grader — new to the school, new to the district — off at Mills River Elementary. Luke made sure I knew, “It’s not a little nervous. It’s a lot nervous.”
As we visit the schools, Garrett is just as excited as everyone else. His willingness to be real and hype humanizes his leadership in a way that builds confidence.
He feels called to do this work. He wants to be doing this work in this place with these people. And you can see it.
It’s good to connect
Part of the excitement of the first day of school is being back together, seeing each other, picking up right where the last school year left off. Garrett says by 10 a.m. you can’t tell what day of school it is. In that early morning TV interview, he said he is excited to get to know everybody. And he is — from students to teachers to principals to staff to school resource officers to parents.
It’s good to learn
Along the way, even on the first day of school, we learned some important things that will be worth circling back to as the school year unfolds.
No surprise, security is top of mind. There are school resource officers (SROs) in every school here. There is a new, districtwide security system. A report of exactly who is in the building can be printed anytime.
Steve Geyer is an SRO. This is his 17th school year. He said, “We know more about what’s going on in our community because we have eyes and ears and get to see everything in the schools.”
Even with all the gear he wears, he says students still want to hug him. He says becoming part of the school and becoming part of the community makes schools safer.
At an elementary school that serves almost 25% Latinx students, we learn that some of the students and families cycle out of school between October and March and go to Florida to live and work. The school has built a relationship with the school and district in Florida where the students go to smooth the transition year to year. They even went to Florida to build continuity of care for these families.
And this school teacher of the year teaches his kids to ride bikes, enlisting the help of fifth graders to help teach the kindergartners. I have seen this in only one other school, but I’m excited to come back and learn more. Garrett promised to ride a tiny bike along with the students.
To all of our educators in Henderson County and across North Carolina, thank you all for choosing to serve our students and our schools, our state, and our future.
And as Garrett says, thank you for putting kids first.
For more photos and stories from the schools we visited, follow me on Twitter @Mebane_Rash.