Surry County convocation urges educators: Ignite the light

David Broyles Staff Reporter

August 23, 2013

PILOT MOUNTAIN — Surry County School’s annual convocation centered more around inspiration than perspiration from work which has gone on throughout the three-month summer hiatus.

The theme of the event was Ignite the Light and a common thread among its speakers was teachers kindling personal fires in students.

“This is going to be a great morning and a great school year,” predicted Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves as he recognized dignitaries attending the event which included State Rep. Sarah Stevens, county commissioners Buck Golding and Eddie Harris, Sheriff Graham Atkinson, representatives from Surry Community College and Surry County Board of Education members Sue Stone, Clark Goings, Vice Chairman Brian Gates and Chairman Earlie Coe.

“The cause of a lot of the good news we have shared this morning (about higher graduation rates) is our wonderful students and people here. Thank you for working tirelessly to overcome a lot of obstructions we have recently experienced,” said Coe. “I commend the efforts of our county commissioners and their support and I think it is amazing how many of you love to come to work. I appreciate what you do.”

Coe also said he had heard from “reputable sources” there would be a raise for teachers in next year’s state budget. He reminded the audience 2014 is an election year. Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources Charles Graham told the group the system has eliminated 100 positions over the past five years (through attrition and retirements) and said he was proud the system had not let any individuals go.

“I am frightened that there is a tipping point which has been reached from cut after cut after cut which will mean a lot of you will see more students in your classrooms,” said Graham. “I am sure you will get the job done once again just as you have in the past. This has been the summer of cut and paste for us, to use a technological term.”

Graham quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt who said education is democracy’s safeguard because it cannot succeed unless those expressing their choice can do so wisely which means education is the real safeguard of democracy.

“We get to experience the childlike exuberance of summer and get butterflies when we think of coming back in the fall. A new school year is full of fun and enthusiasm,” said North Carolina Association of Educators President Lisa Hawks. “We need to feel good about our job. Become a promoter of education. Brag about students, schools and coworkers. The reality is there is a public relations problem. We must tackle perception about education. This is the year if ever there has been one to support teachers.”

Principal of the Year Celia Hodges recalled how much education played a part in her family’s life where “love was as common as three meals a day.” She said her education was more than the role of books, it was about relationships. She quoted retired local educator Pat Widdowson who taught her every child has a story.

“We all have stores. It’s what makes us unique,” said Hodges. “As educators the greatest thing we do is decide what to do with these stories.”

Teacher of the Year Pedro Caro’s story was next on the agenda. He told the audience when he was 10 his family left Mexico and tried many times before making it across the boarder without being deported. Caro’s speech was punctuated by a recording of children telling the audience to ‘Aim for the heart by doing. for the world forgets what you say but rarely forgets what you do.’

“I walked into a fifth grade class not knowing any English,” said Caro. He talked about cruel jokes on his pronunciation, racial remarks and his struggles academically which continued through high school and college. He also told the group how a racial glass ceiling kept him from getting jobs after graduating and how he found his calling as a teacher even though appendicitis nearly kept him from passing his teaching license exams.

“Finally and after all I stand before you humble for receiving this honor,” said Caro. ” It was all so I could understand and serve my students and never let a student go home feeling the way I felt all those years.” Caro unfurled an American Flag at the end of his speech, knelt and kissed the stage. Cairo and Reeves also “hosted” a “Price is Right” episode at the end of the event where one teacher from each school received a check in an amounts from $250-$300 to be uses for school supplies. Caro said he had received support from firms including Scenic Ford, Carolina Carports and Interstate Sign Company.

North Carolina 2008 Teacher of the Year and National Finalist Cindi Rigsbee was the featured speaker. Rigsbee’s talk centered on how her first grade teacher, Barbara Warnecke, made a difference in her life. The two were reunited on an episode of Good Morning America where Rigsbee got to thank her mentor, who she had not seen since 1967. Warnecke could be heard saying ‘I am so proud of you’ as the two hugged.

“When I started teaching in 1979 people used to say 30 percent of new teachers don’t make it through their first five years. I was that statistic. Whatever called me to teaching called me back in 1987. I found out the most important thing was my relationship with students. I found I could have an atmosphere of family in that rickety trailer outside the school. Pretty soon I found out I loved them.”

“Everybody has a Mrs. Warnecke,” said Rigsbee. “We have an opportunity every day to be that difference for a child. I thank you for letting me represent you (as Teacher of the Year) We are all a team trying to make a difference in the lives of these children.”

Reach David Broyles at or 719-1952.