PILOT MOUNTAIN — The fellowship and sharing of memories broke out spontaneously Thursday night even before the 20th anniversary began at Westfield Elementary School.
“I’d like to welcome everyone back to Westfield,” Principal Holly Whitaker said to the audience that filled the school media center. “Thank you for being here to take time to remember and share what Westfield means to us. I’m relatively new to Westfield having been principal here for two years. This is a special place. I feel blessed to work her every day.”
Whitaker told the group how nervous she was pulling up and parking at the school on her first day. She said the entire office staff was out front to meet her and hold the door open welcoming her to the school.
“This is an example of what holds Westfield together. The community and the school is a family,” Whitaker said. “We take care of each other. I’ve experienced that myself. If you’ve ever been part of the Westfield family you’re always in the family. There’s something powerful about telling stories and sharing things. Welcome.”
Westfield School Counselor Steven Smith shared his memories of the first family he met there, Julie and Ronnie Hill, who were introduced to him at the 1997 convocation at Gentry Middle School.
“I was completely green, had just been hired and missed all the new employee orientation. I didn’t know anyone. Martha Smith introduced me to my mentor Suzanne Dearmin. Wow. I had no idea how fortunate I was to have this amazing teacher as my mentor. My heart was broken when she died two years later.”
Smith asked the group for a moment of silence to honor Dearmin as well as educators Vickie Bryant, Glenda Riddle, Linda Dollyhite, Becky Smith and Robert Tolbert. The first principal of Westfield, Jimmy Jessup, was on hand to share some of his memories of the school.
“I worked with all of those we just honored,” said Jessup. “All were very good teachers. They were outstanding. I learned a lot from them as an educator and as a principal. One of the most important things I learned is when teachers are doing things good you just be a cheerleader for them. This has always been good school and a good community.”
He talked about the impact of changes in curriculum even back then and talked about early efforts at finding the site for the new school when it was built to replace the old Westfield school. Jessup told the group about the new school starting out without enough furniture and how the school.
Surry County Board of Education member Sue Stone explained how the decisions for assignments to school were decided along different geographic boundaries then.
“The county passed a bond issue in 1991. The board was interested in building new elementary schools and going to the middle school concept,” said Stone. “This is a good community of what I call salt of the earth people with wonderful children. I hope I have grown in this job. Whatever success I’ve been given credit for I owe to staff, teachers and all those affiliated with the school. They make the system go.”
Board Chairman Earlie Coe told the group he was a county teacher when the new school was built. He said he is an 11-year veteran of the board.
“I was here when it held 500 students. I did not realize the Eastern District wanted a middle school. This came out at the meetings. The people wanted it. The attendance lines did not turn out quite the way we thought they would,” said Coe. “One thing I’ve always admired about Westfield is you know any time you visit, it will be clean with teachers and kids smiling.”
Schools Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves told the audience it is important to talk about the history of public schools. He said that while 20 years is a long time, it’s not such a long period considering public education’s history.
“It’s important a community can come together to celebrate school history and each other,” said Reeves. “That’s what a community school should be. Don’t ever take that for granted.”
Parents, families and anniversary participants finished out the evening with a performance of “Pirates! The Musical” by fourth and fifth grade students.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 336-719-1952.