Is there anywhere in America a more entertaining and outright funny principal than Renee Mack? Probably not.
The J.D. Lever Elementary School principal, who will retire next month, is ultimately an earnest educator. But she’s also chock full of one-liners with her Southern and then-some accent. Her successor will be Cathy Ellis, and Mack said Wednesday that Ellis will do just fine at the school.
“She’s just like me, except the bling,” Mack said.
Hilarious she may be, but she has spent 15 productive years at J.D. Lever – currently the longest tenure as a principal in the district.
She dresses in pink and with jewelry much of the time and was temporarily speechless following her surprise when the faculty and hundreds of children honored her, cheered her and shared a few tears with her during a special assembly program.
“I love each one of you very much,” she said. “Another part of my life is coming, and I’m looking forward to a lot of fishing and golf and spending time with my family. But I’ll miss my school family.”
Mack has an identical twin sister, Marie Rouse, a retired teacher. They’ve always been the best of friends: “We were wombmates,” Mack said.
When they were in grade school, their next-door neighbor had a new baby girl, and the twins rushed over to visit and would help raise her. That baby grew up to be Kathleen Farris, now J.D. Lever’s school nurse.
“Mrs. Mack was so much fun then and hasn’t changed a bit,” Farris said. “She does wear a lot of bling, but I’ve seen her digging worms in her bling.”
Shortly after Mack’s arrival at J.D. Lever, Leigh Watkins was among her first hires. Watkins loved her immediately and had no doubt she had found a home. Yet through Mack’s ready smile and laughter, she definitely has a serious side. Mack makes it easy to come to work every day, Watkins said, and doesn’t stand over her teachers; she always has let them be professionals.
“I just knew I could make a difference if I could get a school,” Mack said. “I could focus on academics and still be fun. There’s a serious person in there and the kids know that, if I have to tell them something needs to be done. I try my best to build up my teachers. I believe in them and how hard they work every day.”
Watkins organized the assembly program with music teacher Marina Vantry. Some of the younger children sang “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music.” The older students followed with a line dance and were joined by many of the teachers and, ultimately, Mack herself.
“She just cares about the teachers, about the students,” said teacher Sarah Walton. “It’s not just what’s in a textbook. It’s what in children’s lives and what’s going on for them and the teachers, too, at home.”
• Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Renee Mack, the effervescent, retiring principal at J.D. Lever Elementary School, is amazed and moved after the faculty and students honored her with a surprise assembly program Wednesday.×