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Governor’s School director retiring

PULASKI — Margaret “Pat” Duncan was eight years old when she had any sort of inkling that she wanted to be a teacher.
Growing up in West Virginia, Duncan and the other children in her neighborhood would gather together and play “school.”
“I was always the teacher,” Duncan said. “We would build cardboard school houses. I think we ended up spending more time building those school houses than anything else. And we would have our crayons and do coloring, and I would try to teach. That was always the excitement for me.”
Now, more than 60 years later, Duncan, director of the Southwest Virginia Governor’s School, is retiring from an extensive career as an educator.
Even as a young girl, Duncan possessed the leadership qualities that she would need further down the road in her career to succeed inside the classroom.
“I remember being in the gifted program when I was in school,” Duncan said. “The gifted teacher was a woman who taught at both my regular school and at Sunday school, so she had a big impact on my life. I always tried to excel so that I could be in her class.”
Duncan said another person who had an immense impact on her as a student was her piano teacher. Duncan began taking piano lessons when she was five and eventually planned to make a career out of it. As a senior in high school, she was awarded a scholarship to the Conservatory of Cincinnati to continue her music education, but, being the daughter of a coal miner, there was not enough money to fund beyond what the scholarship covered.
Instead, after she graduated from high school, Duncan attended Concord University, where after two years, she earned a degree in business, and she thought she might go into secretarial work.
“It was very difficult for me,” Duncan said. “It was my first time away from home. I was a young 16-year-old college student. I remember working so hard to make my grades.”
After graduating, Duncan got married, settled in Pulaski County and had two children. Once her children grew a little bit older, she decided to go back to school at Radford University and get a degree in teaching business.
However, a biology class changed that plan.
“I took a biology class with a professor named Dr. Clark, and he was fabulous,” Duncan said. “I would go home at night and study, and I would hear his voice. I just couldn’t get enough of biology.”
Ultimately, Duncan earned her bachelor’s degree in biology.
While she jokingly says her career began back in the days with those cardboard school houses, Duncan officially became a teacher in 1967 in Bedford County, where she taught biology to 10th graders for 16 years.
In the meantime, she went back to Radford University and earned her master’s degree in biology, and received certification in earth science and mathematics, and was almost able to receive certification in chemistry and English.
In 1981, Duncan moved from the classroom to the school system’s central office, where she began working as the math/science specialist for the county.
While working in the central office, Duncan decided to return to school yet again to earn a doctoral degree in administration. She started at the University of Virginia, but because of its proximity, transferred to Virginia Tech and was almost through with her degree when the position came open in Pulaski County at the SWVGS.
Duncan said that she decided to apply because the position said “director/instructor,” and she had really missed teaching and working with students, especially 10th, 11th and 12th grade high school students.
“It takes a special person to work with that age group and to gain their trust,” Duncan said. “Teenagers bump up against lots of things along the way, so you have to be understanding.”
Duncan took on the role of director/instructor at the SWVGS in July 1991 and has been there ever since.
When she first started, the Governor’s School was housed within an old wooden structure on the Pulaski County High School campus. Two years ago, however, the school changed locations and moved into what was formerly known as Northwood Elementary.
One of the main reasons for the move was growth.
Duncan said that when she first came to the Governor’s School, there were 24 students. By the following fall, there were 62 students. The school has continued to grow over the past 17 years, and in 2008, there are now 170 students.
The number of teachers has grown as well. Duncan said that at first, there were about four teachers — two math teachers, a chemistry teacher and herself. Today, that number is closer to 10.
The school’s curriculum has grown and changed as well. Duncan said, for example, in the beginning, the school offered pre-calculus and engineering calculus to meet the needs of both the juniors and seniors at the school. However, one year, Duncan received phone calls from four different mothers who said their children had already taken pre-calculus at their regular high schools, and they thought the SWVGS was supposed to offer courses that students would not normally be able to take at their high schools.
In response, those four students were placed in engineering calculus, which was the senior-level course, and the following year, they were allowed to take advanced calculus and differential equations. Six years later, two advanced calculus and differential equations classes were completely full.
Duncan said, in the future, she would like to see the SWVGS be able to offer Engineering I and II courses, along with robotics courses. She added that she would like to see the school have a robotics team and have that team participate in competitions.
She said she would like to see the school continue to grow, although she doesn’t think the school’s current location can hold much more than 200 students.
What Duncan said she has enjoyed most about her position as director is that it has been a learning experience from day one. “If you can’t learn, then it’s time to quit,” she said.
She noted that she has learned quite a bit from the superintendents from each school division involved with the SWVGS, and Duncan said they have been “very gracious” and have not been afraid to tell her when changes need to be made.
Duncan also said that she has enjoyed teaching at the school, and she has taught every semester she has been there, including courses in biology (her first love), anatomy, physiology and statistics.
Duncan said that she has also enjoyed working with the school’s summer camp for smaller children and noted that many of those children end up becoming students at the governor’s school.
She said the staff at the school has been tremendous to work and collaborate with.
“It’s been good to work with the type of teachers that we have,” Duncan said. “We all interact on the same level because we’re working with gifted students.
Her fellow teachers say they have enjoyed their time working with Duncan as well.
“Since 1991, she has committed her life to the school and to the students we serve,” said Sherry Pugh, a math instructor at the SWVGS. “Enrollment has increased dramatically under her leadership. She is full of enthusiasm for the school and the students — especially with regard to the Science Fair. She is always so excited when our students win awards for their research projects at the various science fairs they attend or when they win awards for presenting their research papers at the Virginia Junior Academy of Science. She truly cares about the students and will do whatever it takes to help them be successful. This school has been the love of her life since the day she came here!”
Jerri England, also a math instructor at the school, said, “She’s an amazing woman.
I’ve been blessed to work with her since she hired me in 2001. She is an inspiration and shows such strength.”
England added, “And on a funny note, she and I are often roommates when the staff attends conferences, and she teaches all night in her sleep!”
In her retirement, Duncan plans to move to California, where her daughter currently lives.
“They have a ranch out there, and horses, so there will be lots to do,” Duncan said. “But as far as working or teaching, I’m probably not through. I probably will continue. I think it’s a time in my life when one door is closing and another one is opening, certainly into the educational world.”

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Governor’s School director retiring

PULASKI — Margaret “Pat” Duncan was eight years old when she had any sort of inkling that she wanted to be a teacher.
Growing up in West Virginia, Duncan and the other children in her neighborhood would gather together and play “school.”
“I was always the teacher,” Duncan said. “We would build cardboard school houses. I think we ended up spending more time building those school houses than anything else. And we would have our crayons and do coloring, and I would try to teach. That was always the excitement for me.”
Now, more than 60 years later, Duncan, director of the Southwest Virginia Governor’s School, is retiring from an extensive career as an educator.
Even as a young girl, Duncan possessed the leadership qualities that she would need further down the road in her career to succeed inside the classroom.
“I remember being in the gifted program when I was in school,” Duncan said. “The gifted teacher was a woman who taught at both my regular school and at Sunday school, so she had a big impact on my life. I always tried to excel so that I could be in her class.”
Duncan said another person who had an immense impact on her as a student was her piano teacher. Duncan began taking piano lessons when she was five and eventually planned to make a career out of it. As a senior in high school, she was awarded a scholarship to the Conservatory of Cincinnati to continue her music education, but, being the daughter of a coal miner, there was not enough money to fund beyond what the scholarship covered.
Instead, after she graduated from high school, Duncan attended Concord University, where after two years, she earned a degree in business, and she thought she might go into secretarial work.
“It was very difficult for me,” Duncan said. “It was my first time away from home. I was a young 16-year-old college student. I remember working so hard to make my grades.”
After graduating, Duncan got married, settled in Pulaski County and had two children. Once her children grew a little bit older, she decided to go back to school at Radford University and get a degree in teaching business.
However, a biology class changed that plan.
“I took a biology class with a professor named Dr. Clark, and he was fabulous,” Duncan said. “I would go home at night and study, and I would hear his voice. I just couldn’t get enough of biology.”
Ultimately, Duncan earned her bachelor’s degree in biology.
While she jokingly says her career began back in the days with those cardboard school houses, Duncan officially became a teacher in 1967 in Bedford County, where she taught biology to 10th graders for 16 years.
In the meantime, she went back to Radford University and earned her master’s degree in biology, and received certification in earth science and mathematics, and was almost able to receive certification in chemistry and English.
In 1981, Duncan moved from the classroom to the school system’s central office, where she began working as the math/science specialist for the county.
While working in the central office, Duncan decided to return to school yet again to earn a doctoral degree in administration. She started at the University of Virginia, but because of its proximity, transferred to Virginia Tech and was almost through with her degree when the position came open in Pulaski County at the SWVGS.
Duncan said that she decided to apply because the position said “director/instructor,” and she had really missed teaching and working with students, especially 10th, 11th and 12th grade high school students.
“It takes a special person to work with that age group and to gain their trust,” Duncan said. “Teenagers bump up against lots of things along the way, so you have to be understanding.”
Duncan took on the role of director/instructor at the SWVGS in July 1991 and has been there ever since.
When she first started, the Governor’s School was housed within an old wooden structure on the Pulaski County High School campus. Two years ago, however, the school changed locations and moved into what was formerly known as Northwood Elementary.
One of the main reasons for the move was growth.
Duncan said that when she first came to the Governor’s School, there were 24 students. By the following fall, there were 62 students. The school has continued to grow over the past 17 years, and in 2008, there are now 170 students.
The number of teachers has grown as well. Duncan said that at first, there were about four teachers — two math teachers, a chemistry teacher and herself. Today, that number is closer to 10.
The school’s curriculum has grown and changed as well. Duncan said, for example, in the beginning, the school offered pre-calculus and engineering calculus to meet the needs of both the juniors and seniors at the school. However, one year, Duncan received phone calls from four different mothers who said their children had already taken pre-calculus at their regular high schools, and they thought the SWVGS was supposed to offer courses that students would not normally be able to take at their high schools.
In response, those four students were placed in engineering calculus, which was the senior-level course, and the following year, they were allowed to take advanced calculus and differential equations. Six years later, two advanced calculus and differential equations classes were completely full.
Duncan said, in the future, she would like to see the SWVGS be able to offer Engineering I and II courses, along with robotics courses. She added that she would like to see the school have a robotics team and have that team participate in competitions.
She said she would like to see the school continue to grow, although she doesn’t think the school’s current location can hold much more than 200 students.
What Duncan said she has enjoyed most about her position as director is that it has been a learning experience from day one. “If you can’t learn, then it’s time to quit,” she said.
She noted that she has learned quite a bit from the superintendents from each school division involved with the SWVGS, and Duncan said they have been “very gracious” and have not been afraid to tell her when changes need to be made.
Duncan also said that she has enjoyed teaching at the school, and she has taught every semester she has been there, including courses in biology (her first love), anatomy, physiology and statistics.
Duncan said that she has also enjoyed working with the school’s summer camp for smaller children and noted that many of those children end up becoming students at the governor’s school.
She said the staff at the school has been tremendous to work and collaborate with.
“It’s been good to work with the type of teachers that we have,” Duncan said. “We all interact on the same level because we’re working with gifted students.
Her fellow teachers say they have enjoyed their time working with Duncan as well.
“Since 1991, she has committed her life to the school and to the students we serve,” said Sherry Pugh, a math instructor at the SWVGS. “Enrollment has increased dramatically under her leadership. She is full of enthusiasm for the school and the students — especially with regard to the Science Fair. She is always so excited when our students win awards for their research projects at the various science fairs they attend or when they win awards for presenting their research papers at the Virginia Junior Academy of Science. She truly cares about the students and will do whatever it takes to help them be successful. This school has been the love of her life since the day she came here!”
Jerri England, also a math instructor at the school, said, “She’s an amazing woman.
I’ve been blessed to work with her since she hired me in 2001. She is an inspiration and shows such strength.”
England added, “And on a funny note, she and I are often roommates when the staff attends conferences, and she teaches all night in her sleep!”
In her retirement, Duncan plans to move to California, where her daughter currently lives.
“They have a ranch out there, and horses, so there will be lots to do,” Duncan said. “But as far as working or teaching, I’m probably not through. I probably will continue. I think it’s a time in my life when one door is closing and another one is opening, certainly into the educational world.”

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