It’s a rags-to-riches story. Cleaning rags, that is.
A former school custodian recently completed training that will allow him to move up to assistant superintendent, then one day head superintendent.
The 43-year-old Beulah native graduated from North Surry in 1991 without any idea what he wanted to do with his life.
He spent a year at Surry Community College, but was still floundering and decided to drop out. He got a job at a local sock factory.
A few years later in 1998, he learned of a job opening from his dad. Carroll Hall was a longtime custodian in the Beulah area — first at Beulah Elementary, then at the consolidated Cedar Ridge Elementary.
Carroll told Steve that he’d heard of a custodian position coming up at Gentry Middle, if he didn’t mind following in his dad’s footsteps.
Steve said his department was being downsized at the factory, so he spoke to Gentry’s principal at the time, Tom Hemmings. When offered the spot, Steve jumped at the opportunity.
“Mr. Hemmings was a great mentor,” said Steve. Before long, the 25-year-old was staying after school to help tutor kids in math and reading. He also was a volunteer assistant coach with the football team.
Hemmings was so impressed with the young man that he suggested Steve go back to college and earn a teaching degree.
Steve enrolled at SCC and began taking classes toward transferring to a four-year school. While he was studying, he learned of a bachelor’s program that Appalachian State was doing through Wilkes Community College and signed up for that two nights a week.
Six years after starting at Gentry, Steve had his associate’s degree from SCC, then a year and a half later he had his bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
He said he earned his degree in December 2005, but being that it was the middle of the year, there were no openings at Gentry.
Instead, he learned of a fifth-grade job at Cedar Ridge under principal Jeff Tunstall, now an assistant superintendent for Surry County Schools.
Steve said it was really nice being back in his old neighborhood, working in the same school where his dad Carroll was winding down a 31-year career.
When the kids came back from Christmas break in January 2006, Steve was ready for them.
While he enjoyed being at Cedar Ridge, Steve immediately accepted an offer from Hemming to “come back home” to Gentry. Mr. Tunstall was very understanding, he said.
For Fall 2006, Steve was teaching sixth-grade math and science. Some of his students were the same kids he had the year before at Cedar Ridge, so it was an easy transition.
Within a couple of years, Steve was teaching, an assistant coach for football and head coach for girls basketball and softball.
As if that wasn’t enough, he was married with three kids and taking classes two nights a week at SCC’s Yadkin center, working on a master’s degree through another Appalachian State program.
“It was crazy at times between coaching and practices and doing courses,” he said. It wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t received lots of support from the school, assistant coaches, parents and his family helping with the kids.
He finished his master’s degree in 2008.
Hemmings eventually retired from his principal spot and would become first-ever district-wide athletic director.
Steve also left Gentry, getting an assistant principal offer from West Stokes. The principal was Tony George, the former Mount Airy basketball coach.
He started at West Stokes in Fall 2010. It is the biggest high school in the county, and he said he learned a lot about high school life in a short while there.
A little more than two years later, the county superintendent came to him and asked him to take over as principal at the Stokes Early College. He went in October 2012.
“I loved it. It was a great program,” he said. His eldest child attended Surry’s early college, so he knew a bit about the offerings already.
Almost exactly two years after that, the superintendent was back, asking if Steve would be willing to move to Piney Grove Middle School because the principal had left to go back to Pennsylvania.
He liked where he was, but agreed to help.
In 2015, Chad Beasley became the superintendent of Alleghany County Schools. Beasley was a standout wrestler at North Surry, then became athletic director at Mount Airy, where his daughter Kathryn was a volleyball star.
Steve said Chad called him in December 2015 and asked if he would come up to Sparta and take over a grade school.
It was tough to uproot the boys, but the family fell in love with the beauty of the region, and Steve took over Piney Creek Elementary, pre-K to eighth grade.
Since principals don’t get to coach sports, Steve said he has had more free time and has continued his education. He is working toward his doctorate and wants to become a school superintendent himself.
One important step was completed just a week ago as he finished work in the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association (NCSSA) Aspiring Superintendents Program.
Beasley nominated Steve for one of only 34 spots available across the state.
The training has reaffirmed his desire to pursue this goal, he said. His passion for helping kids keeps him motivated.
“The program is designed to support the growth, expansion and enhancement of school and district leaders in the leadership positions they currently occupy while providing high-quality professional development to increase their knowledge base about the skills and dispositions needed by future superintendents,” said Jack Hoke, program coordinator and the executive director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association.
The Aspiring Superintendents’ Program seeks to prepare future superintendents by enhancing their technical skills, including skills for “surviving” in the superintendency, along with 21st-century contemporary personal leadership and development skills. In addition to multiple face-to-face leadership development sessions, an executive coaching component is embedded in the program.
“Mr. Hall developed a strong network of school and district leaders to consult with, and he contributed to the discussions on emerging issues and innovative practices occurring in the Alleghany County Schools,” said Hoke.
“The professional development and networking opportunities will be something I can carry with me into a future superintendency,” said Steve.
He also hopes his own rags-to-riches story inspires others to keep pursuing their own dreams.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.