Where Eagles soar: Stepping in at Beaufort High

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By Terry G. Bennett
President Franklin Roosevelt said that December 7, 1941, would live in infamy. Wednesday, February 22, 2012, may be the day that lives in infamy for me. It was a normal Wednesday — just the normal interoffice chatter about the school board meeting the night before.  There was nothing special about the day at all until Dr. Truesdale walked into my office and asked me to step over to Mrs. White’s office. Within a few minutes, my life was changed. History will be the last judge, but it definitely changed me for the better.
Ironically, February 22 was Ash Wednesday and “Be Humble Day.” I may not be as humble as I write this as I was on the day I learned the news about Principal Dr. Dan Durbin followed by learning that I would be the Interim Principal of Beaufort High School for the remainder of the school year. I was speechless. I was in shock — I was humbled. I will not judge or comment on the actions or decisions leading to my assignment  as the Interim Principal, but I sincerely hope that my actions while serving in that position served as a positive influence for the members of the faculty and especially the students.
The next few days were extremely interesting. Figuring out how I would handle two jobs (I did not lose my district office job), prepping my family, meeting with Dr. Durbin, and meeting with the district people, I stayed a bit busy. Did I mention I would have two jobs? Well, there is no way a normal person can handle the two jobs (Director of Grants Management and Interim Principal of a High School of more than 1,400 students). Actually, you can do it with support. I received a lot of assistance — the staff and faculty of Beaufort High were welcoming and definitely helped pick up the slack; the finance office at the district office did the same.
In all honesty, my biggest luxury came from the students. They were angry! They were confused! They were teenagers! However, just enough of them knew me. On one of my first days at Beaufort High, a young female student who I knew from my elementary days approached me and said, “We were so mad about Dr. Durbin leaving, but then we heard you were coming and we said OK; it will be all right!” Wow, there is no pressure like living up to the expectations of a teenager.
My professional career has included the privilege of serving as a teacher at Lady’s Island Junior High School, an assistant principal at Shell Point Elementary School, principal of Lady’s Island Elementary and principal of Lady’s Island Middle School.  In 2010, I moved to the District Office as Director of Grants Management. During those 11 years at Lady’s Island Elementary and Lady’s Island Middle School, I was the only principal that many students ever knew. Therefore, when I walked into Beaufort High School, there were many familiar faces including staff and students. Thank goodness! Nothing makes you feel welcomed or comfortable like the smile of teenagers that you have watched walk into school on their first day of pre-k or kindergarten. Better yet, it is rewarding to see the faces of successful high school students who once called you daddy by mistake, threw a pie in your face,  took an overnight field trip to Florida with, or ate 10 ice cream cones just to prove a point. Some of these students spent more awake hours with me then their own parents.
To watch students grow up, learn to read, learn to compute, learn to tolerate, and learn to be adults is something few people get to encounter on a daily basis. I am extremely lucky to now attend the art shows of talented students; I can say I helped those students have a great elementary school art teacher. I am extremely lucky to attend soccer matches or baseball games and remember those students learning basic coordination skills from a national certified PE teacher. I am extremely lucky to watch students take their final exams in subjects like calculus, English IV or Latin and know that the teachers I hired played a key role in their success. As a principal your actions are important. Moreover, your indirect influence on the lives of students is so overwhelming: the policies you make, the teachers you hire, the curriculum you stress, the way you say good morning, and so much more makes a difference. As a school principal you are not responsible just for the education of the students’ minds, but for the feeding of their love to learn.
My experience at Beaufort High School has been amazing. I was able to watch young students grow up. I have marveled to watch them handle extremely emotional situations like the tragic loss of fellow students and come out with their heads held high.
I cannot count the number of times I have been thanked by parents, students, and community members for taking the position as Interim Principal during the crisis. Like a good middle reliever in baseball, you take over when trouble is brewing, settle things down, and pass the ball to a closer to bring it home. I gladly hand the ball over to Mr. Murphy.
I would like to thank the community, the parents, the students, the faculty, and the staff of Beaufort High School for allowing me to take the ball and gently bring the team one step closer to continuing the spirit that is Beaufort High. The Eagles are always soaring.