LUMBERTON — Educators from across Robeson County were given the Hollywood treatment Tuesday as they walked down a red carpet and into “an award-winning year.”
Principals, teachers, teacher assistants, school counselors and nurses attended an orientation day at Lumberton High School that had the look of a movie premiere. The orientation, themed “Here’s to … An Award Winning Year,” welcomed educators back to the classroom and was intended to motivate them to be excited about the coming school year.
Around 1,555 teachers and 129 support staff are preparing for 25,000 students and 270 school buses to converge on Robeson County’s 43 schools on Monday.
Sen. Jane Smith and Reps. Garland Pierce and Charles Graham were at the event, which was hosted by WBTW anchor Rusty Ray. Attendees entered the school on red carpet and had their photos snapped by mock-paparazzi. The school glittered with gold fringe and glowing purple columns. Seven teachers walked away with $500 to spend on school supplies.
“On behalf of the Board of Education, I just stand before you to say how much we value you,” school board member John Campbell said to a packed audience.
Teachers enjoyed the celebrity treatment.
“Deep Branch is a really great school. We have an awesome principal and staff,” said Robin Woodell, a fourth-grade reading teacher at Deep Branch Elementary school. “We’re all a family and we are really excited.”
Pembroke Elementary school counselor Kim Locklear said that she is “looking forward to a good, positive school year with a lot of parent involvement.”
Several students, including cheerleaders and JROTC members, helped greet school employees.
“I’m excited to start my senior year because it’s one step closer to college,” said Mackenzie Hunt, who attended Red Springs High.
Assistant Superintendent Shanita Wooten introduced guest speaker Baruti Kafele, a New Jersey principal who has won more than 100 educator awards and acts as a motivational speaker for educators.
The educators leaned in toward the stage, intrigued by Kafele’s words. Shouts of “amen” and “yes sir” echoed from the audience as he spoke about keeping students motivated.
“Setbacks can’t stop you, adversity cannot stop you, challenges cannot stop you because there’s a kid at home that needs you to bring your best on the first day,” Kafele said.
Kafele said that many of his male students were from poor families and got caught up in gangs. He said his staff always made that the students felt valued in school.
Kafele spoke of his own troubles as a child, saying he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, but returned at his mother’s insistence.
After Kafele exited the stage, Antonio Wilkins, principal of the year, and Jamie Burney, teacher of the year, spoke about a trip that they took this summer to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands as part of their prize. They said they returned with a new appreciation of the resources that they had and showed a video with highlighting their trip.
Teresa Davis, from the Robeson Association of Educators, and Lacy Autry, from the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants, spoke on the importance of educators in and out of the classroom. At the end of the event Superintendent Tommy Lowry spoke briefly about the coming school year.
Lowry started by asking educators to support him in his new role as superintendent.
“At the end of this year, then you can judge me. Let’s see what’s going to happen, let’s see what we’re going to do … but it won’t be that you’re judging me, you’ll be judging us,” he said.
Lowry said that the central office has decided to get rid of benchmark tests because they are no longer successful — an announcement met by cheers from the crowd of educators. Lowry said that there would be an assessment, but the new one would align with Common Core courses.
Open houses for all the public schools will be held Thursday and Friday. For information on open houses, visit robeson.k12.nc.us.
Gabrielle can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.