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Waccamaw Middle School: Next principal will face a higher bar

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

For the next principal at Waccamaw Middle School, the task won’t be restructuring or reorganizing as much as it will be assimilation, parents and teachers say.

Bill Dwyer, who will leave the school at the end of June, was principal for four years and in that time it received excellent growth and overall ratings on the state’s annual report cards and the earned multiple Palmetto Gold awards.

“Those excellent/excellent ratings can be hard to maintain,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “Coming into a situation like that is not always easy. It’s a challenge to maintain those standards. You don’t want to let anything slip.”

“We’re already a high-performing school,” said Richard Gehrman, who is in his third year at the school. “Obviously, the job ahead will be to continue at that level.

“Bill had a great approach to whatever he was doing. He allowed the teachers to flourish. He was very accepting of our ideas and trusted our abilities to get the job done.”

Waccamaw Middle opened in 2001 and by the time he was hired in the summer of 2008, Dwyer was already the school’s fourth principal. In fact, at the time of his hiring, it was the third leadership change in three years. Parents who worked with Dwyer praised him for his organizational skills and communication skills.

“Bill was good at getting to know you by name,” said Robby Jones, who served on the school improvement council at Waccamaw Middle. “Whether you were a parent or a student, he took an interest in who you were. He was a real stabilizing force during a critical time for the school. I hate that he’s leaving.”

“Bill has a real gift for working with people,” Laura Tiller said. “He did a great job of working with my son when he was at Waccamaw Middle. Bill had a way of understanding and reaching him.”

With Waccamaw Middle having a high degree of parental involvement, not to mention it being home to the Coastal Montessori Charter School starting next year, the ability to collaborate will be a necessary skill for the next principal as well.

“There will be a need to work with those involved with Coastal Montesori and make sure it’s a smooth relationship,” Dozier said. “And there is always the ability to connect with faculty, staff and students. You have to make sure everyone has the tools they need.”

“Overall, our parents are very involved with the school,” said Gehrman, who served for more than 20 years as a principal in Maryland. “That type of involvement is an advantage for any principal to have. You have to be able to maintain those connections with the community, the same as you do with the staff and the students. It takes a village to raise a child and a village to run a school.”

As the demands and dollars for public education services continue to increase, so does the need for community support.

“A lot of times, it seems like most of the same people are involved with every school event,” Tiller said. “If there is one thing the next principal could help with, it may be to be more proactive when it comes to getting new parents and volunteers involved. They could be a part of the outreach efforts and make more personal appeals.”

“If you want to have parents be more active in the school, you need to create a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for them,” Brian Henry said. “That could start with orientation, or you could use Facebook and other social networking to reach them before the school year even begins.”

Organizational and leadership abilities, advanced degrees and performance history will all be among the criteria that is reviewed for each applicant, but because the challenges related to middle school are unique, specific experience at that level may turn out to be critical.

“It’s not elementary school and it’s not high school,” Mary Tolson, the school’s Teacher of the Year, said. “Our students look like big people and they try to act that way, but they are not. You have to be able to reach them where they are. It’s a different age group and some of the challenges associated with that are not found in elementary or high school.”

The principal opening at Waccamaw Middle was posted this week, and Dozier expects a strong field of applicants.

“I think there will be a lot of interest in the job,” Dozier said. “I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting people to apply. You could always extend the time frame for applications if you needed to, but I don’t think that will be necessary in this case.”

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