August 16, 2008

District energizes employees

When South Pointe High Principal Al Leonard agreed to host the Rock Hill school district's annual "welcome back" bash for all employees, he knew he had a lot to live up to.

Rock Hill High hosted the bonanza last year, and principal Judy Mobley made a grand entrance as the Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, carried in on a couch as admirers threw flower petals.

The year before, Northwestern High Principal James Blake rode in on a motorcycle.

This year, Leonard opted for a presidential entry.

The district holds the celebration yearly to welcome and energize employees. School officials present Teacher of the Year awards for each school and the district. Staffers, draped in their school's colors, fill the bleachers.

Just after 9 a.m. Friday, South Pointe's gym was packed with hundreds of cheering people.

A voice announced over speakers that a celebrity was on his way. Video footage from outside the school showed a caravan of black Chevy SUVs led by a police car pull up.

"Secret service agents" in black suits and sunglasses secured the area. Finally, Leonard emerged. He was greeted by a flock of screaming kids dressed in South Pointe's red and white.

From a podium, Leonard addressed the crowd: "Although we have several days before the first day of school for students, I stand before you as the presumptive principal of South Pointe High School."

He joked about what's become a rivalry between him and the other high school principals.

He told the crowd he originally didn't intend to take part in it this year.

"I said it is time for change," he bellowed.

"I told myself that I was too big to engage in what had obviously become a game of one-upmanship. But apparently, I am not."

After his speech, Leonard rode away in a police golf cart with flashing blue lights, chauffeured by an officer.

School officials announced a Teacher of the Year for each school.

Northwestern High's Bryan Coburn was named Teacher of the Year for the district. He got about $3,000 in award money.

India Hook Elementary's Lesslie Pursley and South Pointe High's Rebecca Rockholt were each named Beginning Teacher of the Year.

After speeches from district superintendent Lynn Moody and school board member Jim Vining, the band Harmony, with help from several school staffers, played music from the 1950s and '60s.

When the party ended, principal Mobley caught up with Leonard.

"I did not believe you could do it," she told him. "But you did."

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