HAMLET – There was an air of anticipation at the Cole Auditorium as more than 600 teachers gathered Thursday for the 2014 Richmond County Schools Convocation.
The opening ceremony is held each year to welcome back teachers as well as to inspire them for the upcoming year. This year was no different as teachers were reminded of the purpose behind their passion—their students.
New this year were the motivational speeches of five Richmond County students from schools throughout the district, who all asked teachers the same question: Do you know me?
Fourth-grader Joydan Styles of West Rockingham Elementary, sixth-grader Thomas Barbee of Rockingham Middle, seventh-grader Lee Hayden of Rockingham Middle, Sherlyn Martinez of the Ninth Grade Academy and sophomore Maggi Chambers all addressed teachers as they prepared themselves for the year ahead. The students explained, in their own words, exactly what they needed to have a successful education.
Teachers also received several motivational messages from the members of the Richmond County Board of Education.
Executive Director Dennis Quick then announced the 2014 Assistant Principal of the Year — Steve Wood of Richmond Senior High School. In his nomination letter, Principal Keith McKenzie wrote that Wood was “a very dedicated and committed administrator that certainly knows the curriculum he oversees.” McKenzie added that Wood has established a clear vision that also fosters collaboration.
The 2014 Principal of the Year was recognized next, bringing Principal Dawn Terry of Monroe Avenue Elementary onto the stage. Terry has served as the principal of Monroe Avenue since 2011.
The room quieted as Associate Superintendent Jeff Maples described the 2014 RCS Teacher of the Year. When the time came to announce the winner, he paused.
“I think I’m going to need some help,” he said, calling forward ninth-grader Sherlyn Martinez.
Martinez approached the podium and smiled when she read the name.
“Congratulations to the best teacher ever,” she said, proclaiming Jennifer O’Neal as Richmond County Schools’ Teacher of the Year.
Only minutes before, Martinez had mentioned the Ellerbe Middle School teacher as someone who made a huge impact on her life.
O’Neal is an eighth-grade science teacher with nine years of educational experience. She previously taught at Shaw Elementary School and Rockingham Middle School. O’Neal is a graduate of Richmond Senior High School and received her degree from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
In her application, O’Neal wrote that she considered many career paths while continuing her undergraduate education in college.
“Teaching stood out to me because I have always envisioned myself helping children, as they need a strong voice to provoke them to learn,” she wrote.
“Even as a child, I tried to portray the role of a teacher by conjuring my own lessons and teaching my baby dolls as well as my older brother. During my elementary, junior high and high school education, I watched and admired so many of my educators. They were strong individuals who had a purpose in their career. They wanted to watch me and so many others succeed. I want nothing more than the same for those who enter my classroom each day. I ultimately feel that this has molded me into the teacher I am today.”
Both teachers and students will return to their classrooms on Monday for the first day of school.