School is ‘a wonderful place to be’

By BROOKE J. WOOD

brooke@southwesttimes.com

Heroes became the theme for Wednesday morning’s convocation at New River Community College, where there were also a few reminders of the ongoing discussion over building a new consolidated middle school.

Jeff McCoy, the high school’s theater arts director, established the theme early in the gathering of Pulaski County school employees and guests inside Edwards Hall, and guest speaker David Hagan continued the message with his personal account of how teachers influenced him during a sometimes-difficult upbringing in Montgomery County.

During his welcome address, McCoy shared that when he was a new teacher, he thought he could do it all himself. But the first day of teaching presented him with an unexpected scenario for which he wasn’t prepared.

“That’s when I realized maybe I wasn’t Superman, and could not do everything or vanquish all the foes and lead all the students to truth, justice and the American way. We must all work together to make Pulaski County Public Schools quality schools, to meet the needs of students, the parents and, overall, our community.”

Referring to the superheroes in DC and Marvel comic books, he told the audience, “It takes all of us working together, using our super powers to prepare the students for the real world challenges that they will face.”

He said that by providing materials, clothing and food resources to students that have been struggling with financial crises, teachers become heroes to students and their families.   “When we provide after-school tutoring for students who are having difficulties in classes, we become their heroes. Most importantly, when we provide a listening ear to those who are dealing with social issues, being bullied, who feel friendless – or just take time out of the day to find out what is troubling the student – we become heroes.”

In introducing David Hagan as the guest speaker, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers remarked that he had only been with the Pulaski County school system for a year, “but it truly feels like Pulaski County is a community moving forward. Many people are contributing the feeling of advancement, but none more so than our guest speaker today.”

Hagan, a principal with SHAH Development, has been one of the drivers behind Pulaski’s changing townscape.

“Through his vision, leadership and a lot of cash, we’ve seen Calfee Park revitalized, Al’s on First grow to be one of the finest dining establishments in the area, and are about to see the Pulaski mall return to life with the opening of the new car dealership,” Siers said.

“He has been diligent in pushing away all physical and elected obstacles to progress, and his efforts are a big reason we’ve gotten Pulaski County Middle School off the ground.”

Hagan shared that he grew up as one of five children in an Elliston trailer park. He characterized his family as “very poor,” and described his parents as “uneducated,” but very “hard working” and “God-fearing.”

He explained that his schools and teachers made all the difference in his life: “School is just where it was. Because of the support that you had from the teachers and staff, it just made it a wonderful place to be, and for me it was my place of choice.”

The schools kept him busy playing football, basketball and baseball, and he was active in choir and drama club. “It’s the place you looked forward to going every day. No matter what happened, that was the place you wanted to be.”

He recalled coming home one day to discover his home had been decimated by fire: “As a 15-year-old, when you suddenly realize that the only thing that you have in your life is the gym shorts you have on and a pair of sneakers, things become much more difficult.”

The siblings were split up between different homes for a few months, and one of Hagan’s coaches took him in that summer. He said he had written that coach a thank you letter a couple of years ago, and he visited with him last year.

“I was able to repay him for his kindness this past year, and gave him a new car,” Hagan said.

Hagan told the audience that the military, where he went after graduating high school, taught him “you have to take care of yourself first, and then you can give back, you can help others.”

He continued, “I’ve always felt like we should give back. I think you need to give back to your community and you need to give back to our students. I think it is a debt you owe for being fortunate.”

He said that was one of the motivations behind the Growing the Future program, the words on the cloth work bags he brought for teachers and others.

He told the gathering of mostly teachers that his history was similar to the many students they have in their classrooms today: “You know there are a lot of things that are really difficult to get through, like coming from an underprivileged family. I know we face that a lot today in our society, and in Pulaski County.”

Saying “strong schools were vital to the area because of community, prosperity and economic development,” he jested that he had heard “some rumbling about a new school” in Pulaski County.

“You see the signs everywhere – ‘just build it.’ I understand the decision was made not to just build it right now – it’s to go to referendum. I, first, will tell you, I never want to be on the board of supervisors,” he said. “But, second, if I were, I would have voted no or I would have voted to build it. It would never go on a referendum, because I think that’s what we elect our officials to do – to make the hard decisions to move forward.”

He observed that “obviously, we’re going to have a lot of folks that say, ‘I don’t have any kids in school.’ No, but you live here, you’re part of this community, you’re part of the prosperity, you’re part of the success. You’re part of the failure of this community and, you know, we just can’t allow that to happen.”

Siers told the gathering, “I’m happy to report that we are 100 percent staffed and ready to go this school year.”

On behalf of the school board, chairman Timothy Hurst thanked the new teachers for “choosing Pulaski County Public Schools,” and added, “but Pulaski County also chose you.” He also thanked returning teachers and staff.

Hurst told them if you ever get a chance to go to a play, choir concert or football game “you should go. Those are some of the things I enjoy the most about being a part of Pulaski County Public Schools.”

Lezley Wilson, president of the Pulaski County Education Association, said, “If you don’t think education and politics aren’t closely married, then you don’t understand, because all aspects of the education process are rooted in politics [and] every brick, every book, every dollar and every policy is decided by elected officials.”

McCoy, who was named Teacher of the Year for 2016-17 by the Pulaski County School Board, said, “Most of you know me as the crazy theater arts teacher at the high school, the psycho one that every year attempts to put on seven shows with his students, including multiple musicals, competition one-acts and a children’s show with the high school directing high school and middle school students, up to 115 of them, like last spring.”

Siers referred to McCoy as “quite a character. He’s been quite a few characters, actually. Whether you’re looking for comic relief or a romantic lead, Jeff is your man. Truly, there is no way to accurately measure the impact he has had on students of Pulaski County as well as all over Southwest Virginia. He is always working, and his kids are always performing.”

Siers called Clyde Prim, who was named Support Employee of the Year for 2016-17, “one of the most beloved people at Pulaski County High School. Everyone from the pre-school students to the fifth-year seniors, know his name.”

Brandon Atkins performed “Who I’d Be,” from Pulaski County High School’s spring performance of “Shrek, the Musical.”

The PCHS band performed “The Star Spangled Banner” and the fight song; the PCHS color guard presented colors; Pulaski Middle School’s choir and drama teams performed numbers to start the county’s new teachers’ school year off; and the PCHS Cheer Team raised some high-flying moves.

Tyler Lundy, the new Dublin Middle School band director, and Jeb Sturgill, the new DMS choir teacher, performed their school-inspired versions of “Summertime” and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”

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