The honors keep rolling in for Brenda Campbell and the Rock Hill school district.
The long-time principal at Saluda Trail Middle School was called to the school’s media center for an “emergency” at the end of the school day Tuesday, only to discover her faculty, staff and students had lured her there to receive the Middle School Principal of the Year award from the S.C. Association of School Administrators. On hand to present the award was Molly Spearman, the outgoing executive director of the SCASA and the incoming state education superintendent.
“This is a very competitive award,” Spearman said. “Our three finalists were all outstanding, so it shows how impressive it is for her to win.”
Campbell said she didn’t find out until after the fact how one of her assistant principals had nominated her for the state award. She interviewed with the association’s board a couple weeks ago, but said she had no inkling she might actually win until she walked into a crowded library Tuesday.
“I want to thank all the people that got the applications in quietly, who wrote letters on my behalf. I appreciate everybody behind that,” Campbell said, holding a bouquet of flowers presented by her students. “We really are like a family here, and you (staff members) stand behind everything I put in front of you.”
This week’s award is just the latest honor for Campbell, Saluda Trail and the school district. Just two weeks ago the middle school was named one of 15 “exemplar schools” for 2015 by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national organization focusing on the implementation of new learning styles. The honor recognized Saluda Trail’s transition to a STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – curriculum.
“The most exciting thing is bringing the community in to get involved in day-to-day learning. We learn from them how to teach to get students ready for the work force,” said Julie Marshall, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Saluda Trail. “I have never worked anywhere that has such a family atmosphere. What she’s built and created here is indescribable.”
In 10 years as principal at the middle school, Campbell has created a learning environment that Rock Hill Superintendent Kelly Pew on Tuesday called “cutting edge and innovative.”
“She’s wonderful. She gives you just enough rope to either hang yourself or succeed,” said Carolyn Moore, an instructional coach at Saluda Trail. “Everybody has a voice. We know she has the final say, but any teacher and even students can come to her with an innovative idea. ... She’s never happier than when somebody has a better idea of how to do things.”
Campbell’s win creates a winning streak in this category for the district. Last year, Michael Waiksnis, then principal at Sullivan Middle School, was presented with the same award.
Spearman said she hopes to celebrate Campbell’s win after she assumes the state’s top education post. Spearman plans to introduce Campbell to the governor, the General Assembly and the state education board, hoping they will see the same drive that impressed her during their interview.
“She’s very humble too,” said Spearman. “She knows it’s not about you, it’s about everybody else. That’s what made her so exciting.”
That quality came through in Campbell’s remarks Tuesday.
“This is the best school to work in, because we have staff and teachers who are willing to try innovative things,” Campbell said. “And I would put my APs (assistant principals) up against anybody in the whole state for the way they get behind the innovative stuff we do.”