BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson hosted a small luncheon Thursday afternoon at Unity Center in Statesville to celebrate the accomplishments of three retiring I-SS principals.
West Iredell Middle School Principal David Ivey, North Iredell Middle School Principal Robbie Sipes and Union Grove Principal Kelley James are all retiring this year.
Johnson said there was no way that we were going to let them leave without a proper send-off.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenge for I-SS as they normally hold a large retirement celebration for their employees. Large events have been called off to minimize the number of people in a school or building at one time.
However, it didn’t dampen the group’s enthusiasm.
The district’s leadership team members and principals have a special bond. Some of them attended school together as children, worked together as adults and will even retire during the same year.
“COVID-19 has messed up our ability to say a proper goodbye to everyone,” Johnson said. “We had some control over this group — it was small enough.”
“It’s really rare that individuals grow up in a school system and then go away to college and come back and spend your entire career in the same school system,” Johnson said.
“Between the three of you, there’s about 100 years of experience walking out the door,” he added.
He said it’s not just pedagogy knowledge, but community knowledge and the relationships they have established.
“Your influence runs deep multi-generational,” Johnson said. “That is something to be proud of. I-SS is a great school system and it’s widely regarded and respected. That’s true because of the quality of people.”
James is a North Iredell High School graduate. She was a member of the first cohort of N.C. teaching fellows, along with former Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Melanie Taylor.
“I felt like it was made specific for me. My fourth-grade teacher is the reason I became a teacher. She was a catalyst and pushed me in that direction,” James explained.
Johnson said James she took tie to learn every child’s name, every parent’s name and everyone’s name in the building. She personalized the principalship to the next level.
Sipes is a 1987 North Iredell High School graduate. He began working as a teacher in 1993 after the district merger.
“I always wanted to encourage our students that they could do whatever they wanted to do,” Sipes said.
During his first year as a teacher, he had a dream about his eighth-grade, teacher Mrs. Helen Parker. In that dream, he told her that he was teaching.
“It was a validation for me that was where I was supposed to be,” Sipes said.
When he was a youngster, he played Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind for Heritage Days.
“Your name has become synonymous with North Iredell Middle School,” Johnson said. “You taught there, you were an AP (assistant principal) and principal there. I don’t think you can count the number of kids you impacted there.”
Ivey is a graduate of D. Matt Thompson. He started his career in education as a Biology teacher.
As a student, he was known to get int trouble occasionally at school. However, that perspective helped him in the classroom and in his role as a principal.
His brother, Tim Ivey, is the principal of South Iredell High School. Their father was a principal and an associate superintendent, inspired David to become a teacher, along with his own teachers who saw potential in him as a student.
Among his accomplishments as the principal of West Middle School, he raised the school’s performance grade by two letter grades going from an F to a C.
“Here’s another exemplary leader we’re going to lose,” Johnson said.
Taylor, who retired earlier this school year, along with Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Alvera Lesane and Director of Communications and Development Boen Nutting also took part in the event.
Lesane also expressed her appreciation for each principal. She told Johnson, who will retire June 30, that she has enjoyed working with him and the others in the central office.
“I have been very fortunate to have great bosses in my career. This is the best team that I’ve worked with. We are so different, but that difference is what’s part of our strength,” Lesane said.
“This is the first time I’ve had a whole team that I would trust to the moon and back without question.”
Lesane thanked Johnson for his leadership.
“Watching you in all of your kindness … has given me a different approach to leadership. I will be eternally grateful for that,” she said.
“When I think of not only your kindness, it’s more about never being willing to write someone off. You are someone who no matter what has happened … are always willing to give someone another chance,” she added.