Hanging among the sports banners in the common area of Mount Airy High School is a banner recognizing another, much-more-important accomplishment.
“Welcome to one of America’s best high schools,” it reads, noting that the local high school was rated in the top 3 percent in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
That being the case, many of the best teachers in the country gathered for a start-of-the-school-year tradition Thursday.
Barely masked excitement mingled with smiles all around as more than 250 teachers and teaching assistants gathered at the school for an annual orientation ceremony for teachers and staff.
City schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Little said the yearly convocation, held on the eve of the start of a school year, is one of his favorite events.
“This is a chance for us to come together and kick off the year with enthusiasm, and let our teachers and staff know we appreciate their hard work and effort throughout the year,” he said as he watched the teachers make their way through the line to munch on a breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, sausage and all the fixings prepared by school cafeteria staff.
The event was also attended by numerous elected officials, including members of the city school board, members of the county and city boards of commissioners and Rep. Sarah Stevens.
“This is important,” said county Commissioner R.F. “Buck” Golding. “We try to come out and support the schools every year as they kick off another school year.”
After breakfast, the crowd made their way into the school’s auditorium, where they were welcomed by School Board Chair Wendy Carriker.
“I do not welcome you back to work,” she said. “Instead, I would like to welcome you back home.”
It was a sentiment that resounded among the audience, who nodded enthusiastically.
“I stand before you today to declare proudly and clearly that no group of professional educators anywhere does this work better, with more heart or with more skill, than the educators and support staff of the Mount Airy City Schools,” she said to audience applause.
Jones Intermediate School Principal Jason Dorsett, while introducing some of the 12 new teachers hired in the system this year, told the assembly their job is to instill a love of learning in the county’s youth.
“If we can get the kids pumped up, excited and challenged every day, they will learn, and they will be excited about learning,” he said.
Little told the group that the school system’s new slogan, Lead, Innovate, Serve, should be at the forefront of every teacher’s mind each day.
“Think about how you can lead in your classroom, at your school, and in the district this year,” he urged.
“Our ability to innovate is directly tied to our ability to collaborate,” Little continued. “I challenge each of you to grow your ability to collaborate this year. Being a highly effective team is critical if we wish to reach that next level of performance.”
But Little stressed the spirit of service above all else.
“Service is what we’re all about,” he said. “We serve our students. We serve our community and we serve each other.
“I know that it is hard to sit here today as an educator. It’s hard to think about all of the sacrifice, hard work, effort and time when it seems that they are not honored. Let’s serve each other this year.”
Because after all, teachers build future leaders, said guest speaker Anna Phillips, a 2001 graduate of Mount Airy High School who now serves as one of the curators at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
“At my graduation, you sent me out into the world with the foundation and knowledge that I can step outside my comfort zone,” she said. “You are doing something right. They are learning and you are changing lives.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.