Andress Carter-Sims, found out just three weeks ago that she was to be the new interim principal at Burton-Pack Elementary School. But on opening day Monday she was already immersed in the life of the Richland 1 school, moving among students and teachers, greeting parents, monitoring the “shirts-tucked-in” dress code, and making sure the lunch line was moving at an acceptable, if slow, pace.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Carter-Sims, who began her teaching career at nearby Virginia Pack Elementary School in 1992, shortly after her graduation from USC. Virginia Pack, now empty and scheduled to be razed this year, was merged with Burton Elementary School in the late 1990s. The current school sits on Garden Drive off of Two Notch Road.
As parents waited to enroll children, and at least one youngster rushed to the nurse’s office with an upset stomach, Beverly Byrd enveloped the new principal in a big hug. “I’m coming to let you know I’m here to support you,” said Byrd, a former Virginia Pack early childhood teacher who taught with Carter-Sims years ago. She now substitutes and volunteers at Burton-Pack.
Carter-Sims is one of 11 principals or assistant principals reassigned this year around Richland 1. District spokeswoman Karen York said the reassignments were due to a combination of factors including retirements and promotions.
Carter-Sims, a former assistant principal at Forest Heights Elementary School, said she supports the changes, seeing this as part of the vision of Richland 1 superintendent Percy Mack. Carter-Sims succeeds Denise Collier, who was elevated to the job of director of Richland 1’s Center for Educator Quality.
“I consider all that moving around as visionary leadership by the superintendent,” said Carter-Sims, who said she has already memorized the names and faces of the 80 staff members at Burton-Pack, from teachers to cafeteria workers and custodians. “He is a superintendent who understands you need to have the right principal in the right place.”
Carter-Sims, who has worked in the district office as the director for school improvement and in the areas of Title 1 and accountability, isn’t one to raise her voice. But she is a keen observer and already has developed huge respect for her staff members, who face daily issues that come with educating children from high-poverty, single-parent families.
“The level of professionalism and teamwork is phenomenal,” she said. “They are aware of the challenges of poverty and they are up for dealing with it.”
One hundred percent of the students at Burton-Pack receive free or reduced meals and many families face a myriad of social problems. It is one of a handful of schools in the district that has a full-time social worker.
Most of the students stay in one of three after-school programs to enhance their academic and social skills and receive another hot meal around 3:45 p.m.
“It’s a safe haven for them,” said Mary Kirkland, site coordinator for the 21st Century Program, one of the after-school choices.
Under former principal Collier, Burton-Pack fostered considerable community and parent support, which Carter-Sims hopes to continue. Even though most children are being raised by single mothers, Burton-Pack has a dads’ support group that numbers over 120, she said.
Still, Carter-Sims said school staff and parents suffered a psychological setback this month when Burton-Pack went from an “A” grade on state accountability rankings to an “F” this year. Her old school, Forest Heights, went from an “F” to an “A” in the same one-year period, she said.
“The formula they use, in my experience, is flawed,” she said. “Burton-Pack is, in no way, an ‘F’ school.” But she said the news weighed on parents, nevertheless. She said she explained the variables that go into the growth ratings and believes the school can rebound this academic year.
She said she’ll spend a lot of time stopping in on classrooms and encouraging students. On Monday, she paused by 11-year-old Daquan McFadden.
“It’s nice to see your shirt is tucked in,” she told the fifth grader, who smiled shyly at the compliment.