Fort Mill school district names teacher, support staffer of the year

FORT MILL -- Good learners make good teachers, says Julie Warner, a Fort Mill Middle School special education teacher who was named district Teacher of the Year on Wednesday.

James Barber, a Gold Hill Elementary School custodian who has never been late and taken only one sick day in nine years, was selected Support Staff Employee of the Year. He called the honor "the happiest day of my life."

A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 1,000 district employees filled the Nation Ford High School auditorium to celebrate the beginning of the school year, hear Superintendent Keith Callicutt discuss preparing students for a rapidly changing world of the future and to honor colleagues for service to children.

"To be a good teacher, you have to be open to learning, open to collaborating with others, to trying and failing and trying again, and to always knowing you don't have all the answers, but to search for the answers," Warner said after the assembly.

A Clover native, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in special education from Winthrop University. She is a former Fort Mill Middle School Teacher of the Year, but she did not win the districtwide honor until this year.

Her principal, Tommy Schmolze, said that for Warner, teaching is "a calling."

"She has the heart of a teacher," the principal said. "To know Julie is to know you are in the presence of a great teacher."

Despite special education's reputation for teacher burnout, Warner said working with students with disabilities is "challenging and extremely rewarding."

"They always go the extra mile and try harder," she said. "They always strive to do their best."

Barber said the key to being a good elementary school custodian, despite expecting runny noses and loose shoelaces, is to "just do right and treat people like you want to be treated."

Gold Hill Elementary Assistant Principal Chris Gardner said Barber, who's been with the school for 11 years, is "a fixture around here."

"He's friendly and well-respected by the children," Gardner said. "They recognize his birthday. Parents who've had other children in Gold Hill know him."

Barber often opens and closes the school at night for special groups and is always "a great ambassador" for Gold Hill, Gardner said.

The district, with assistance from S.C. Bank and Trust, gave Barber $1,350 and Warner $1,850. Leroy Springs & Co. gave each a week's vacation at a Springmaid resort.

Each also earned a special parking space, an extra personal leave day from their school and a year's supply of hugs and congratulations from their colleagues.