With preparations for the start of the rapidly approaching new school year reaching their peak, 650 Watauga County Schools personnel attended professional development sessions, an employee health fair, and convocation at Watauga High School Tuesday morning.
The theme for this year’s gathering was “Collaborate, Celebrate, Create,” a theme on display at convocation and in over 30 “job alike” professional development sessions that took place at the event. There were specialized sessions for personnel working in transportation, office support, technology, and student services, as well as a session for principals and assistant principals and a host of offerings for teachers in different grade levels and subject areas.
“The range of people and skills required to operate a successful school system is both remarkable and easily overlooked,” commented Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott. “We have a lot of people working in roles where the better they do their job, the less you hear about them, yet they are absolutely essential to the operation of our schools. The outstanding success of our teachers depends not only on their professional skills and hard work, but also on the excellent support provided by our maintenance personnel, bus drivers and mechanics, teacher assistants, office support personnel, custodians, technology staff, and cafeteria personnel. We simply could not run our schools without all of our employees working together to serve students.”
The health fair offered personnel a range of medical tests and information on health- related issues. Employees could speak to experts and pick up print materials about massage and yoga, self-defense for women, exercise, substance abuse prevention, mental health services, and additional topics. Attendees were also treated to breakfast items and coffee thanks to the generous support of Bojangles’, Chick fil-A, Hardee’s, McDonald’s, and Stick Boy Bread Company. A smart HDTV donated by AFLAC representatives Lowell Younce and Susan Henson topped a list of raffle items awarded at the convocation.
The convocation speakers included Dr. Elliott, School Board Chair Ron Henries, WCS Principal of the Year Marshall Gasperson, and WCS Teacher of the Year Martha Trimble. Each addressed the theme of “What Watauga Means to Me.”
Henries emphasized the long tradition of excellence in the Watauga County Schools, telling the assembled personnel “you’re exceptional, you’re different…you are a standard bearer in this state. You do daily what other systems aspire to do.”
He added that “some people in other districts think we don’t even have problems. Of course we do, but you are professionals because you keep trying to do your work better.”
WCS Principal of the Year Marshall Gasperson stated that the essence of what Watauga means to him includes the traits of caring, persistence, courage, and perseverance on behalf of students. He concluded his remarks with a reading of the poem If by Rudyard Kipling, a work that celebrates many of the same traits.
WCS Teacher of the Year Martha Trimble spoke of the “transformative power of teams working together and taking on the world,” and observed that a shared sense of caring is an important part of Watauga’s identity. She assured her colleagues that “our work together is something to be proud of,” and closed with a rousing call of “Let’s do this.”
In his remarks, Dr. Elliott said that “if I can convince you of anything today, I hope it is that there is real, transformative power in collaboration, selfless leadership, optimism, and love of our students.” His perspective on what Watauga means to him noted that “all of us believe that a system of high quality public education is the key that unlocks greater potential and brighter futures and stronger communities for each and every one of our students…if you are new to Watauga, you need to know that we care, and that our students, parents, and colleagues all have to know that you care.”
Elliott also extolled the exceptional quality of the Watauga County Schools, saying “I do not believe there is any school system anywhere else in NC, maybe even the nation, quite like this one.” He cited statistics about recent recruitment and hiring – 543 applications for the 56 positions filled in the last five months – in stating that “we are once again able to hire the very best, a key indicator of system quality.” Other measures of excellence mentioned by the superintendent include the district’s high graduation rate, top tier student test scores, and student success at regional, state, and national levels of “every kind of club, team, and competition.”
He closed on an additional note of respect and appreciation for school personnel. “We are all here doing what I believe is the most difficult and important work in our whole society. You could have chosen to be doing something else, and I sincerely thank you for choosing to commit your life to the power of positive public education.”
Classes in the Watauga County Schools begin Monday, August 22nd.