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New principals, teachers, a roof and a.c.
School starts Monday for more than 10,000 Bulloch children
W 072916 STILSON ES 02
New Stilson Elementary School principle Tanita McDowell, center, huddles up with faculty and staff in the main office Friday as they prepare for the first day of school Monday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Workers with nail guns were busy finishing the reroofing of Stilson Elementary School and portions of the new air-conditioning system were running Friday as the new principal, Tanita McDowell, talked about her job and the school where she greeted children and parents at a Thursday night open house.

Changes at the prekindergarten through fifth-grade school in the Stilson community 15 miles east of Statesboro are examples of those over the summer in the Bulloch County school system.  More than 10,000 students are expected to begin classes this week in the 15 schools. Also returning, or in some cases starting new jobs, are more than 1,460 school system employees.

Her promotion from assistant principal at Statesboro High School to principal at Stilson gives McDowell, a Statesboro resident, a longer commute. But she said the warm welcome she has received in Stilson makes it an easy drive.

“I’ve been greeted with open arms from the faculty and staff here, even the parents last night –  the students and the parents because I can’t tell you how many hugs I got from kids, and this is their first time seeing me – and lots of parents greeted me and talked with me a good little bit,” McDowell said. “This is definitely a family-oriented community, and everybody is part of the family.”

McDowell, 36, attained her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and her master’s in educational leadership from Georgia Southern University, and has since gotten an education specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. Previously Tanita Peak, she married Maurice McDowell three years ago, and they now have an 8-month-old daughter, Mia.

Originally from Quitman near Valdosta, Mrs. McDowell spent her first two years as a teacher at Swainsboro Elementary School in Emanuel County and has since worked 12 years in Bulloch County, as a fourth-grade teacher at Brooklet Elementary for seven years, then as an assistant principal at Langston Chapel Elementary for two years and at Statesboro High for three.

At Stilson, she succeeds Pam Goodman, who was Stilson principal for four years after one year as assistant principal. Goodman has been reassigned to Langston Chapel Elementary School as its principal, replacing Dr. Shawn Haralson, who took a job as superintendent in another county. Other principals new to their schools are Patrick Hill at Portal Middle High and Jennifer Wade, interim principal at Mill Creek Elementary. Hill was previously principal at Mill Creek, and Wade was previously Sallie Zetterower Elementary School’s assistant principal.

Goodman’s handprints remain on a wall inside Stilson Elementary in “Stilson Stingers” mascot colors, which are the same as Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets colors. Putting signed handprints on the wall is a tradition for Stilson students, teachers and administrators.

“I can’t wait to get my hand painted blue so I can get my handprints on the wall as well,” McDowell said. “That’s something the school takes pride in. This school is definitely built on tradition.”

Principals such as McDowell were officially at work July 1. Teachers joined them last Monday and have spent a week getting ready for students. Of Stilson Elementary’s 28 teachers, four are new.

One of them is kindergarten teacher C.C. Rohrer, 24. She grew up in the Bulloch County Schools, attending Sallie Zetterower Elementary, Langston Chapel Middle and Statesboro High. Then she stayed in town to receive her degree in early childhood education from Georgia Southern in December 2014.

After doing her student-teaching practicum at Guyton Elementary in Effingham County the previous school year, Rohrer was a kindergarten teacher there all last year. But now she’s back in Bulloch, ready to teach 22 kindergartners.

“I’m so excited, because I grew up here, it felt like home to me, and I’m so excited to be back in Bulloch County, right down the road from my family and my friends,” Rohrer said.

She is one of more than 80 newly hired teachers throughout the Bulloch County system. Of 150 new employees who attended a July 22 system-wide orientation, 77 have jobs requiring teaching certificates, and another seven teachers arrived last week, said Human Resources Director Phillip Tremble.


Facility upgrades

A heating and air-conditioning system and shingle roof may not be flashy purchases, but those being installed at Stilson together cost more than $1 million, making the school one of the system’s largest recipients of capital spending this summer.

The reroofing cost $395,000. McDowell said she understood the work to be down to the gym roof. It should be complete this week, and any remaining work by roofers will be done after school hours, she said. Previous administrators had been telling the Board of Education about leaks for several years.

Meanwhile, only a portion of the $694,500 air-conditioning system is complete, after the time required to apply for state funding and order the larger air-conditioning units needed, said Paul Webb, chief operations officer for the Bulloch County Schools.

The air conditioning work will probably be completed around Oct. 1, he said. Now, the contractor will work after school and on weekends, and will leave components of the old system working so that classrooms will have air-conditioning, Webb said.

Because of the age of the roof and heating and air system, state funding is paying 80 percent of the cost. That is also the case with the new heating and air-conditioning equipment installed on the old wing of Nevils Elementary School for $108,150.

But the county’s Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is paying for the $995,000 fieldhouse and concessions building being added on the back of Portal Middle High School for football and other sports. That project isn’t 100 percent complete either, but Webb said it should be ready for the Panthers’ first home game, Aug. 26.

Some other schools received fresh paint and new floor coverings in some classrooms and hallways. Webb, who oversees facilities and transportation, said the schools will be ready for students Monday.


New STEM labs

For this school year, all of the elementary schools will have STEM labs, for science, technology, engineering and math learning. One middle school, William James, has also added a STEM lab.

“Just like the students cycle through art, music and physical education each week, now all the children will also go to STEM lab,” said Hayley Greene, the school system’s public relations specialist.

The STEM lab does not replace regular science and math classes, but is an enrichment program, she added.

At Stilson Elementary, 2015-16 also brings a new theme, related to a school improvement goal to grow better readers.

“We’re going to be ‘champions for our students’,” McDowell said. “So everybody here is a champion and we’re here for our kids, we’re fighting for our kids, we’re going to battle for them.… Our kids are champions; we’re champions.”

This planned story for the day before school starts back was overtaken by breaking news Friday that Portal Elementary School Principal Paul Hudson had been arrested Thursday night in Effingham County. Charged with criminal attempt to commit child molestation, Hudson was immediately suspended from his job by Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, who on Friday appointed PES Assistant Principal Laurie Mascolo as the acting principal.

So five of the 15 schools now have new permanent, interim or acting principals.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.




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