Soon after North Aiken Elementary School students left for home Thursday afternoon, the teachers and staff gathered in the library with interest in meeting Elisa Sanders-Pee.
The faculty members didn’t know until Wednesday that she had been appointed as their new principal as a part of a major instructional transition.
Sanders-Pee will lead the school in a program intended to establish a “model school,” where, over time, every teacher will have a model classroom, using best practices to help their students.
Aiken School Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt announced the new program to the public Wednesday. North Aiken was identified as a school with high poverty that could benefit from a new concept. The appointment came as Sanders-Pee was finishing her sixth year at New Ellenton Middle School as principal.
“I do have a passion for children, and that’s why I chose to come to North Aiken,” she told the teachers.
“I love what I do and I’m sure all of you do, as well. I’ll be back (today) to visit your classrooms and your students and then get into full swing Monday.”
During the past three months of the school year and then in 2013-14, Sanders-Pee said a vision will emerge to give the staff a picture of what North Aiken can become.
“We’re going to seek research,” she said. “That’s No. 1 to find something that we can sustain.”
The former principal, Rhonda Ray, has moved to a leadership role at the Center for Innovative Learning at Pinecrest. Fifth-grade teacher Jane Timmerman, a 25-year veteran at North Aiken, acknowledged she and other teachers were shocked by the news on Wednesday.
“But it’s exciting to know that we’ll have full model classrooms and new programs,” Timmerman said. “The children will be excited, and people will be coming in and watching us. North Aiken will be known as a model school, not only in the county, but in the state. To know we’ll be looked at in a positive way is exciting.”
Cathy Ellis, the assistant principal, is intrigued by an infusion of technology.
“It’s a tool, but the biggest thing is that it can help with student engagement,” she said. “Young people are so familiar with gaming systems, so we’ve got to move forward with what they can do.”
Like other teachers throughout the Aiken School District, those at North Aiken work hard, Ellis said. She’s delighted that they will get additional resources and expand efforts to get more parents, businesses and the community involved.
First-grade teacher Curtis Dawkins has spent his 13-year career at North Aiken.
“It’s a dramatic change,” he said. “We’ve got new leadership coming in, and we’ll continue to work diligently on whatever system comes. We’ll make sure everything benefits the children.”
Erin Smith, a fifth-year, fourth-grade teacher, appreciated the training she received to serve as a model classroom teacher in 2011-12.
“Now, all our teachers will receive that. All of them will build on that empowerment,” she said. “I’m absolutely ecstatic about what will happen for our students.”
Timmerman and Dawkins emphasized that they’re committed to the school. Dawkins hopes to teach there for the rest of his career.
“North Aiken is my job, my profession in life,” Timmerman said. “You’ve got to have those in the community who want to help us and our students. North Aiken is my mission.”