The leaders of York Comprehensive High School and the district’s alternative school York One Academy have announced plans to retire.
Diane Howell, who has been principal of YCHS since 2002 and who led the opening of York’s new high school in 2010, and Ethel Engrum, who has led York One Academy since it was founded in 1998, will retire at the end of the school year.
Shelton Clinton, assistant principal of York One, was named that schools’ new principal last week. A search for Howell’s replacement began after her announcement last week.
Howell, 62, said she had considered retiring for some time, but had received a couple messages earlier this year that made her believe the time was right. One of those was when the high school chorus, following a victorious competition, sang her a passionate version of the alma mater on the phone late one night as they returned home.
“They sang it with so much pride,” she said.
Howell said she felt her goals leading the school has been accomplished. YCHS was the result of a merger of three high schools — York, Hickory Grove and Jefferson high schools. Red, green and blue in the new high school foyer and other areas represent the three schools.
“We are one high school and we need to be united,” Howell said about the 1,440-student school. “I think that was my purpose, to come here and merge us into one high school. We’re the Cougars now. I felt like I had done what I was here to do and it was OK to pass the torch.”
Howell graduated from Hickory Grove High School in 1969, and drove a school bus for two years beginning at age 16. She earned bachelor’s, master’s and educational specialist degrees from Winthrop.
She taught science, then home economics for 24 years, first at Gaffney High School, then at York’s Harold C. Johnson Middle and the Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center. She served as assistant director of the tech center for six years before she was named principal of YCHS.
“I have been so blessed; not many principals can open a new high school,” Howell said. “And not only did I get to open it, I got to help design it. We looked at high schools all over the place and I got to play a major role in helping to design it and pick out the colors.”
“I’ve also been blessed to have good people around me, and they’ve done a wonderful job,” she said. “The data shows learning has greatly improved here, and that’s about having good people who have worked so hard. And I’ve loved every day coming to work.”
A change at York One
Engrum, 66, had a 30-year education career in Maryland before she returned home to her native York in 1998 to care for her ill mother. But Engrum said she wasn’t yet ready to retire.
The school district wanted to open a new alternative school to help troubled students, and Engrum was asked to establish the program and lead it.
Engrum, who had served as a middle and high school principal in Maryland and had also held other teaching, guidance and administrative roles, didn’t have experience with alternative programs. She began doing research and learning.
“We just started working from there,” she said.
York One serves about 70 students in fifth to 12th grades. Students are referred to the program due to behavior problems, excessive absences, academic troubles or other issues.
“I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about this, because it’s like leaving my baby,” Engrum said of the program.
But Engrum, who lost her mother earlier this year, also looks forward to spending time with her family, including her son, his wife and her two grandchildren in Virginia. “All of my time has been devoted to other people, and I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said.
York One’s new principal Clinton, 34, is a Clover native. She worked for 10 years with Gaston County schools, teaching and then serving for six years as an assistant principal, before coming to York.
She earned her undergraduate degree in family and consumer science from Winthrop and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of South Carolina.
Clinton said she has a background in working with at-risk students in Gaston County. “We’re able to provide much more intensive interventions due to our small class size, and we do see a lot of success.”
“It’s challenging, but I feel like it has a lot of great rewards, when you see students being able to succeed at something they had difficulty in,” she said. “I enjoy seeing the rewards they receive from their education.”
Clinton, lives in Clover and is married to Garrison Clinton, an educator who works in the Clover school district. They have two children, ages 9 and 4.