After 23 years as a first-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, Patti Strom has accepted a new opportunity as the Midland Valley Prep charter school principal.

“It was very hard for me to come out of the classroom,” she said this week. “I thought I would retire from Jefferson and be happy doing it. But I saw this as a chance to look for the greater good with a larger number of children in the community.”

Midland Valley Prep, established in 2002, is one of three charter schools in Aiken County and currently has 170 students in grades K-8. While the school operates under the formal approval of the Aiken County School District, it has its own Board of Directors that coordinates the school’s policies.

Heath Taylor, the board chairman, said the members were impressed that Strom brought a knowledge of Midland Valley and its mission during her initial interview.

“She knows the area well, the business owners and the parents,” Taylor said. “She’s a perfect fit … and will bring a positive atmosphere and renewal to the energy of our teachers.”

Strom grew up in Graniteville, attended Byrd Elementary School and Leavelle McCampbell Middle School before graduating from Midland Valley High School in 1986. She enrolled at the University of South Carolina before transferring to USC Aiken, graduating with an education degree in three years. Strom then returned to USC to earn a master’s degree in reading. She and her husband McElveen have four daughters.

She completed an internship at Jefferson before spending her first year of teaching at North Aiken Elementary School. LaWana McKenzie, the now-retired Jefferson principal, invited Strom to return to the school.

“I appreciated her leadership and her abilities,” Strom said. “I have learned so much in looking back. She was who I wanted to be as a person and as a leader.”

Since her appointment at Midland Valley Prep, Strom has met with all of the teachers. All have been coming in this summer to get ready for the school year.

“That’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. “What really caught my attention here is how the teachers are allowed creativity in their attention to curriculum development. This is a new breath of fresh air for me, and I’m so happy you cannot imagine.”

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.