Growing schools add new role

It's normal for there to be assistant principals at middle and high schools, but as elementary schools in the area continue to grow, they too have a need for assistants.

State law requires elementary schools to hire either an assistant principal or a curriculum coordinator if they have more than 600 students enrolled, said Beckye Partlow, executive director of personnel for Rock Hill schools.

Other schools can request to hire an assistant principal if their program teacher leaves and is not replaced.

Four Rock Hill elementary schools will have assistant principals this year.

"When you have a huge school, it becomes a point in time where parents don't want their child going to that school," said Elaine Baker, district spokeswoman. Baker said having assistant principals can help solve that problem.

An assistant principal fills many roles.

They handle disciplinary matters, textbook and transportation issues and help evaluate teachers.

For the principals at elementary schools that will be getting assistants, the new administrators offer a much-needed helping hand.

Having an assistant gives principals someone who can share the administrative workload. It also allows them to bounce ideas off another administrator.

Most simply, it gives them more time to do their jobs.

"I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to really pursue my passion that I have as instructional leader of the school," Rosewood Principal Stephen Ward said.

Oakdale Principal Neil McVann expressed similar sentiments.

"When a school gets that large, there's more management issues and stuff that you're dealing with," he said. "That position helps free me to be able to get out into the classroom more. Otherwise I get stuck in my office dealing with stuff and I need to and want to be out in the classroom visiting with kids and teachers and being more of a participant in the school."

All four of the new assistant principals came from within the district.

Three of the four completed administrative internships at their schools last year while they finished their master's degrees in educational administration.

The interns were part of the Grow Your Own Leaders program through the Olde English Consortium. The program allows local teachers to earn their degrees while only paying for half the cost of tuition. If participants remain in an education position within the consortium area for three years after they graduate, they are reimbursed for their half of the money.

The internships were hands-on. Interns were responsible for much of the same work they will handle as assistant principals.

"You name it, I've done it," said Johneka Simmons, the assistant principal at Rosewood.

"I am what it says -- I'm an assistant. ... I think that's the most important thing is to see yourself as a person that teachers, parents and students can come to and know that there's someone there who can assist them with whatever their needs may be."

One key difference now that the interns are officially assistant principals is that they have more authority. Although they were able to observe the teacher evaluation process last year, they couldn't sign off on the final product.

Now evaluating teachers will be an important part of their jobs.

Latoya Dixon, the assistant principal at Old Pointe, said she is looking forward to the increased independence she will have now that her internship is complete. Dixon said she did a lot of guided activities last year that she now will do on her own.

Because they all came from teaching positions, the new assistant principals say they never forget to keep teachers in mind when making decisions.

"It was exciting and new," said Christopher Roorda, an intern-turned-assistant at Oakdale. "But at the same time I was always trying to think of how the teachers were thinking."

Roorda said the position is crucial.

"There were some days last year when I asked my principal how in the world he did it without an assistant principal," he said. "Things get so crazy."

Nakia Barnes, the only new elementary school assistant principal who was not an intern last year, said she is excited to learn about her new role at York Road. Barnes previously taught first grade at Sunset Park.

Unlike the other assistants, Barnes and Principal Patrick Robinson will be taking their first crack at splitting the work load this year.

"One of the key differences is that I'll be really involved with the curriculum piece and working with teachers and getting them the materials they need to facilitate their teaching," Barnes said.

No matter what school they are starting at, Rock Hill's four elementary school assistant principals are entering the school year wide-eyed and eager to get involved.

So far, the experience has been an eye opener.

"As a teacher you think, 'I have 20 students and they are what is most important to me,'" Simmons said. "As a teacher you do whatever you can to make sure those needs are met. As an administrator you aren't just thinking about one select group of individuals, you are making decisions for the whole school."