By VICKIE McCORMICK LEWIS
Language Arts, Poral Middle High School
Before becoming the first Black principal in the history of Brooklet Elementary School in 2005, before earning her Education Specialist degree (Ed. S.) in Leadership and Administration in 2001, before graduating from Georgia Southern University with a master's in Middle-Grade Education in 1985, before graduating from Savannah State College (now university) with a B.S. in Chemistry/Mathematics in 1970, and even before graduating third in her class from Candler County’s Lillian Street High in 1966, Minnie Priscilla Faye Groover Clifton knew God had a calling on her life.
Clifton establishes her relationship with God in the first few minutes of our conversation. She tells me candidly, "I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and mind; he is first and foremost in my life."
Those seeds of faithfulness were planted early.
“The most influential person in my life was my mother (Ola Mae Groover). My mother taught me to put God first in my life, to be kind and respectful to everyone, and to always believe in myself,” she said.
Clifton was born in Statesboro but grew up in Candler County (where she is known as “Pris”) to the late Dan and Ola Mae Groover. She has one brother, John D. Groover who resides in California with his family.
A resident of Bulloch County for the past 48 years, Clifton is married to Freddie Clifton of Statesboro. They have two sons (and two daughters-in law who she lovingly calls her daughters): Dr. Gregory T. Clifton (wife Quyen) is an attorney in Colorado and chairman of the Accounting Department at Metro State University. Her youngest son, Galen Clifton (wife Latarsha) is an accountant in North Carolina. She has two grandchildren: Andrew, 16, and Ashlyn, 14.
“I love my children, but my adorable grandchildren create a special kind of bond and love in my heart,” she said.
Clifton has done it all. In this case, “all” covers many bases: teacher, tutor, assistant principal, principal, professor, student-teacher supervisor and disciplinary hearing officer. Clifton’s knowledge has guided K-12 learners as well as students in higher education. She has taught and led as an educator at several institutions: at Toombs County High School in Lyons, Georgia as secondary teacher (ninth -12th) of Algebra and General Math; at William James Middle-High School as secondary/middle grades teacher (seventh - ninth grades); at Marvin Pittman Laboratory (summer) School in secondary math; at Ogeechee Technical College as Mathematics Adjunct Professor of Pre-Algebra, Algebra and General Math; at Brooklet Elementary as Assistant Principal; and at Brooklet Elementary as Principal.
“Mrs. Clifton’s leadership style was very professional,” said Cynthia Canty, recently retired Brooklet Elementary School teacher. “She was not only smart, but she was fair, consistent, supportive. Her advice for classroom management: ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say—and don’t smile until April (she would add jokingly).’ She was firm, yet maintained a wonderful relationship with students, parents, faculty and staff.”
Clifton admits that education had become the center of her life. Upon retiring in 2008, she continued the process of impacting learning in the role of student-teacher supervisor at Georgia Southern University.
As if 38 years in public education isn’t enough, Clifton currently serves as the disciplinary hearing officer for Bulloch County Schools where she addresses discipline issues and encourages students to understand the importance of education and how to redirect negative energies into positive outcomes. Her contributions have not gone unnoticed. She was twice named Teacher of the Year (1990 -91 and 1991-92) and is a recipient of a 2008 Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Award.
Clifton holds active memberships in various groups and organizations in and around Bulloch and Candler counties. As a member of Mt. Zion AME of Statesboro, she is president of the Flora Hagan Missionary Society and president of the senior choir. She teaches adult Sunday school and is also a steward of the church.
She has served as second vice president of the Women's Missionary Society of the AME Church of the Savannah District and is currently parliamentarian of the Old Georgia Conference Women Missionary Society. Clifton sits on several boards: Habitat for Humanity, Bulloch County Library Board of Directors, Foundation for Education Board, OTC Child Development Board and Homebound Services Board of Directors. She’s a member of Bulloch County Retired Teachers, NAACP, Pilot International Club of Statesboro, Black Women of Profession Civic Club of Statesboro, Delta Kappa Gamma Teachers Organization, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Chi Pi Omega Chapter, and Rose Metter Chapter Order of the Eastern Stars where she serves as secretary and past matron.
“I believe I’ve made a great impact on my community through teaching and serving others,” Clifton said. “Many former students who I’ve taught and mentored have become exceptional men and women. This was partly due to my patience, understanding and ability to work with them in any capacity.”
Cleve White, Clifton’s one-time pupil, can attest to one of Clifton's strategies for classroom discipline.
"I was the seventh grade class clown. One day she moved my desk up front alongside hers, looked me in the eye, and said, 'You are going to learn something in this class!' and I did. Mrs. Clifton was the teacher who changed my attitude about school and learning. She cared enough to insist that I get an education,” he said.
Clifton found encouragement in former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming.”
“It was a wonderful book; Michelle inspired me to continue my work with young children and mold their minds to prepare them for future endeavors,” she said.
In addition to reading, Clifton enjoys walking, dancing and cooking. One of her favorite dishes to prepare is homemade brown rice and Cornish hens stuffed with orange. She stays fit with frequent walks.
"I love to swing and line dance," she adds.
Racial unrest is a concern of Clifton’s.
“I know you can’t change people, but we Americans can practice what we’ve been taught. The Bible says, ‘Love ye one another as I have loved you.’ It does not say like, and I know we do not like what some or most people do, but we are commanded to love. I believe that all people are created equal regardless of race, creed or nationality — and they should be treated like humans.”
Statesboro is a small town with a big heart. And as Clifton has instructed, we ought to have love for our fellow man. We do not have all the excitement of larger cities, but we have great educational opportunities, job security and a strong work ethic. Clifton remains faithful despite the world's current state of turmoil.
"We can be good citizens by listening to our government and the CDC, following safety guidelines, and having faith that all things will work out for the good. I believe this is all in God’s plan; He is the master and finisher,” she said.