Monday was truly a “great day to be a Buckin’ Elk.”
After a 7:30 breakfast to allow everyone a chance to eat and catch up after summer vacation, the Elkin City Schools administrators, board of education members, teachers, other staff and special guests gathered in Dixon High School Auditorium for a rousing, three-hour 2015-16 back-to-school convocation.
Dr. Richard Brinegar, chairman of the Elkin City Schools Board of Education, welcomed everyone to the convocation, saying he is amazed at how much the school system is able to get done in “these difficult financial times.”
“I’m just looking forward to the continuation of STEAM,” he said of the focus on Science Technology Engineering the Arts Mathematics. “I think it is a great thing we’re doing.”
Frank Beals of the Elkin City Schools Board of Education addressed the educators in the “words of inspiration” portion of the convocation. Beals said he selected a quote by Lloyd Alexander from his book, “The High King,” to describe the staff of the school system: “A true hero is a person who strives more for others than for oneself.”
Beals said the Elkin school system does a great job hiring educators who know how to “bring to life in kids something they didn’t know they had.” He said the great school system was one of the reasons he and his wife chose Elkin when they were looking to move from Florida to a small town in North Carolina.
Every time he reads or hears about achievements of Elkin City Schools graduates, Beals said he thinks about the educators who taught and inspired them.
Mike Fenley, speaking on behalf of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, said, “I’ll report back to him the excitement I sense in this room as Elkin City Schools starts its new school year.”
Kyle Hall, representing U.S. House Rep. Mark Walker, said, “We hope that we’re doing a good job for you in Washington.” He praised the school system for all its achievements, saying “the results speak for themselves.”
Eddie Harris, chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, said he also appreciates the achievements of the school system. Speaking on behalf of the commissioners, he said they “will continue to advocate for education and see that you get what you need in challenging times.”
When he is at meetings with educators from other systems, Bledsoe said some of his colleagues call him “the luckiest man in the world” because he works for the Elkin City Schools. “I tell them they’re right,” he said.
The Elkin City Schools is the second highest ranked public school system on schooldigger.com, which ranks private and public schools in each state. The Elkin City Schools ranks 23rd on the website. The only public school system ranking higher is the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public Schools at 17th. All of the other school systems which ranked higher are private.
The Elkin City Schools also was listed in the 2015 NICHE Rankings as the third best public school system in North Carolina and received a “Best High Schools Silver” designation this year in the U.S. News & World Report.
Bledsoe said his colleagues also ask him how Elkin consistently ranks so high, adding that one had even commented that there must be something magical about the school system.
That got him to thinking what the school system might have in common with stage magicians, Bledsoe said, which do the seemingly impossible … “So the question becomes, ‘Is there magic?’” he asked, “Is there magic in the air?
“I think so. I think that exact thing every single year … We do what most people think is impossible.”
At the end of his presentation, Bledsoe showed a slide show presentation he put together to the music of “Magic,” a popular song performed in 1975 by the rock musical band, Pilot. The video featured photographs of Elkin High school students, activities, sports and other events.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be here this morning,” he said, “and to represent the school system on a daily basis.”
Bronson Ericksen of Elkin Middle School, the 2015-16 Teacher of the Year for the school system, spoke about the importance of attitude in the classroom. He was talking to his grandfather, Richard Albright of Utah, who has since passed away, about getting ready to start work as a teacher when he offered him some great advice: “Bronson, just smile, and everything will fall into place.”
Ericksen said that advice has proven true. “When we smile, our body releases endorphins that relax us and lower our blood pressure,” he said. “And since smiles are contagious, when we smile, someone is more likely to smile back, allowing everybody to reap the rewards of the interactions.”
Ericksen said “attitude is everything” in the classroom “and the only thing we can control.”
Lestine Hutchens, the mayor of Elkin and a member of the 1966 graduating class of Elkin High School, was the last of 18 speakers at the convocation. “There is something special about the Elkin City Schools,” she said. “I believe it is expectation, the expectation of the town for the administration, the principals, the teachers and, of course, the coaches.”
Hutchens said those expectations have led to “the high ranking of the schools, the almost miraculous sports achievements, the drama, the science, the new wonderful STEAM program which drills down into the real world and teaches students what ‘science, technology, engineering, arts and math translates into.’”
The mayor said the Class of 1966, which selected “Call Me Irresponsible” as its class song on Senior Day, was quite challenging for the staff of Elkin City Schools from elementary school through high school. Two teachers who were always supportive of her were Carrie Donnell Kirkman, seventh-grade English and social studies teacher, and Julia McNeely Holthouser (later Richards) with their lifelong guidance and support.
“But the point I want to make is you are — each one — that important to someone. Each one of your students has a feeling of your expectation for you …
“I know students don’t make it easy for teachers, but the result of your work is the successful life (in whatever they choose to do) and love of learning that you give them.”
Bledsoe said afterward that he was very excited about the convocation. “I really enjoyed hearing Mayor Hutchens talk about her school experiences and how every teacher can impact a child’s life,” he said. “We do that by encouraging through our subject area teaching, through our compassion and through our caring.
“We want to be the best school district in North Carolina, and we do that through our teaching staff. We want to prepare the kids in our classroom for future education and for potential careers every single day.”
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.