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Waccamaw Middle School: Principal candidates meet the public

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

School Superintendent Randy Dozier hopes to make a recommendation to the school board next week for a new principal at Waccamaw Middle School.

Maintaining a strong public presence will be a key skill, he said, and the five candidates for the position got a chance to demonstrate their ability this week, addressing parents, faculty and district personnel during a forum at the school’s auditorium.

Jamie Curry, Mark Phillips, Paul Spadaro, Darryl Stanley and Craig Stone had 10 minutes apiece to talk about leadership, goals, instruction and discipline. Though the messages tended to overlap, the group as a whole made a strong impression, said audience members, who noted the candidates’ acknowledgment that Waccamaw Middle is a top performing school where drastic change isn’t necessary.

“There seemed to be a recognition of where we already are, and I heard some clear visions of how we can improve,” said Richard Gehrman, a teacher and former principal in Maryland. “I found that to be very encouraging.”

“There are a lot of good things already going on at the school,” said Sheila Benton, who will have a son entering seventh grade next year. “There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I see it as moving forward from where we already are. It’s going to be a tough decision for the school district. All of the candidates are very good.”

Curry, Stone and Stanley are veterans of the Georgetown County schools. Spadaro is assistant principal at Forestbrook Middle and Phillips is assistant principal at St. James Middle in Horry County. A move from there to Georgetown County is not always a common career path, but both viewed the chance to lead Waccamaw Middle as something they had to pursue.

“Were I to get the job, I’m sure my wife would have our house for sale the same day,” Phillips said. “We love the area, we can see ourselves being here and raising our children.”

Spadaro had the most hectic schedule of any of the candidates. His daughter, Madison, was born on Tuesday, just prior to the forum.

“It’s been crazy,” said Spadaro, still wearing his hospital ID tag under the sleeve of his suit. “There is a lot going on for me, but everything has been worth it. Waccamaw Middle has such a tradition of excellence, I hope I can be a part of seeing that continue.”

Dozier said he received about 40 applications for the vacancy, and the process of filtering those down to five finalists centered on leadership and middle school experience. The years following elementary school and prior to high school are considered to be the most challenging in many aspects, and making the transition is something students and parents struggle with.

“I know where students have been, where they are going and what needs to be done while they are here,” said Curry, an assistant principal at Waccamaw High and a former middle school teacher.

Stanley is the assistant principal at Waccamaw Middle. He believes his familiarity with the students, parents, faculty and community would provide him with a head start in determining what is best for the school’s future.

“I know the issues we have and where we need to improve. I already have relationships with many students, parents and community members. Because of that, I would be able to hit the ground running.”

Waccamaw Middle’s enrollment has increased by more than 20 percent over the last two years. The increase presented challenges for discipline and instruction.

Spadaro said having effective protocols in place is the best way to handle discipline issues. “Students have to feel safe and secure each day,” he said. “I try to treat every child like they are one of my own. Problems are going to occur. You need to have procedures in place to address them.”

Phillips is a former special education teacher. He has a son with Down’s Syndrome.

“My son has taught me that we have to treat every student as an individual,” Phillips said. “And everyone has the same right to an education.”

Principal Bill Dwyer, who will leave at the end of the school year for a job in the private sector, was on hand and appreciated the recognition of the school’s progress during his four-year tenure.

“It was nice to get the nod,” Dwyer said. “It’s a credit to everyone involved. You always want to leave things better than you found them. This school has a tremendous amount of potential, now it needs to be unleashed.”

“I’m sure the next principal will do a great job. It’s a very strong field. I was impressed with them all.”

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