By Carmen Dillard, principal
As the last few days of this school year draws to an end, I find myself very reflective and appreciative of the last six years. I began as principal of Coosa on July 1, 2008 after relocating to Beaufort, South Carolina from Atlanta, Georgia. I left my family, a school where I had worked the past 13 years, and the familiarity of the place I was born and raised to begin a new chapter in my life. I can honestly say that while that change was a bit scary at times, it was also invigorating, and I think, meant to be. I have grown so much as a professional, and have enjoyed seeing Coosa continue to grow and expand its culture of high quality and excellence.
I was just reviewing our school staff roster, and since I began in 2008, Coosa has maintained many of the same teachers — in fact, two-thirds of the staff have been here that length of time or longer. The remaining one-third of the staff joining us since 2008 have brought new ideas and positive energy. I think we have a healthy mix of professionals who see the benefit of working together to ensure our students receive high-quality instruction. They are ever-mindful of each student’s individual learning needs and are committed to being a positive role model for students.
Over the past six years, our Coosa school family has struggled with serious illnesses. Seven have had cancer, and two are still undergoing treatment. These hardships have brought us even closer together as a school staff as we rally around these individuals. This does not go unnoticed by our students. From our actions, they are learning compassion, consideration, and helping others less fortunate.
In addition to the dedicated Coosa staff, our students continue to benefit from our benevolent community who see the value in reaching out to work with and prepare our next generation. For our military families, we have a full-time Military Family Liaison Consultant. Mrs. Alley is well-loved by our military impacted students, and they look forward to spending lunch time with her. Our Rotary Readers from the Beaufort Rotary come to school each week not only to help students in need of additional reading assistance but develop a friendship with these students who often need to build confidence. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department and Lady’s Island Fire Department are frequent visitors to the school and serve as role models for the students. Our business partners, Home Depot and Martin and Lindsay Landscaping, were instrumental in providing time, labor, and materials to help us make our Memorial Reflection Garden a reality this past year. Each 1st Friday of the month, we have Coosa dads (and other father figures) join their children for the All Pro Dad breakfast. Finally, our many parent volunteers continue to spend countless hours at school working with students, or assisting in the classroom or building to make all of our jobs a bit easier.
I have to say that the biggest accomplishment during my 6 years at Coosa has been implementing “The Leader in Me.” Coosa is proud to be the first leadership development school in Beaufort County based on the late Dr. Stephen Covey’s books The Leader in Me and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 7-Habits, which serves as the framework for the school theme of “Lowcountry Leaders”, teaches students how to make good choices, plan ahead and prioritize, work well with others, and take care of themselves — body, mind, and spirit. It is embedded into the school culture and curriculum throughout the day and even beyond. I feel a great sense of pride for our growing leaders when individuals (perhaps some of you) have attended one or both of the annual Leadership Events and remark how impressive it is to see these youngest leaders taking on responsibility and demonstrating the leadership skills they are continuing to develop. We continue to see the benefits: a continual drop in disciplinary referrals, students genuinely interested in setting goals, tracking their progress, and displaying good citizenship. All of this develops greater self-confidence, a sense of direction and purpose, and a positive and healthy school climate for learning. I am delighted we get to keep our 4th grade leaders an additional year as 5th graders to hone those leadership skills even more.
As I prepare to leave this wonderful school and take on a new challenge and direction in my life as Director of Elementary Academic Assistant for the Beaufort County School District, I am eternally grateful for the years I have had being Coosa’s principal, the many friendships I have developed in the community, and last but not least, the children who have touched my life. I will miss them a lot, but as I tell them, I know where I can come to get a “kid-fix” when I need one.
In all seriousness, I leave Coosa knowing that the tradition for excellence will carry on — it was here before I arrived and will be here after I leave. The school will be in good hands under the leadership of Mr. Charles DelForge, who begins officially as Principal of Coosa on July 1. He had the opportunity to spend the day at Coosa on May 23 to meet school staff, students, and parents. The students were very excited to meet him and were so gracious. Mr. DelForge and I will continue to work closely to make the transition for the school as smooth as possible.
Finally, thank you all for all you have done to make my life richer by being a part of this community. I will always be grateful for this experience and truly believe it will better prepare me as I begin my work with all elementary schools in Beaufort County.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally printed in the Lady’s Island Business Professionals Association Newsletter.