Houston opens school year with local focus

PERRY — The economic realities of the day were apparent at Tuesday’s opening session for Houston County schools.To begin with, the school opted not to have a motivational speaker this year. School board Chairman Tom Walmer opened with the comment, “It’s not business as usual this year. This is the most challenging economic crisis we’ve ever faced.”

Superintendent David Carpenter, in introducing the day’s guests, asked that teachers new to the system stand up and be recognized.

“That’s smaller than in the past,” he said about the slightly more than 50 standing teachers, “but we got the best of the best.”

That perhaps summed up the day’s over-arching theme that the school system is trying to make the best use of limited available resources.

The school year’s school opening comes on the heels of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s announcement last week of a three-day furlough for school system personnel in the state. Meanwhile, many local systems are dealing with millage rate increases and budget cuts.

On top of all that, educators were still enthusiastic about beginning another year.

“I’m excited about it,” said Gwen Pearson-Kilgore, principal at Miller Elementary in Warner Robins.“Even with all the bad economic news we’re able to maintain a high standard, and I look forward to this year.”

In his address, Carpenter reeled off the accomplishments of the past year and challenged teachers to continue. “Be proud of your profession,” Carpenter said, going on to talk about a teacher who had an impact on him — Hilda Hattaway, his second-grade teacher at Lindsey Elementary in 1959.

“Her smile made us feel safe. She went the extra mile, loved all of us and never raised her voice,” Carpenter said.

Then, his voice breaking with emotion, he said, “Like all the other boys in class, I knew I’d grow up and marry Miss Hattaway. She’s here now, and she’s just as pretty as I remember.”

Hattaway, who retired in 1980 after 30 years of teaching, stood up and the room echoed with loud applause.

Carpenter then told the story about violinist Itzhak Perlman, who didn’t stop a 1995 concert to repair a broken string but instead wowed the audience by completing the performance with only three strings.

“You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left,” Perlman was quoted as saying after the concert.

“You are the reason for our success,” Carpenter said, “and we will make music with what we have left.”The school system also named its Teacher of the Year, agricultural science instructor Melissa Moulton of Perry Middle School.

The seven-year veteran comes from a family of educators, said her older sister, Jennifer Spivey, a media specialist at Kings Chapel Elementary.

Her mother is a paraprofessional at Matt Arthur Elementary, and her brother is a middle grades math teacher in Forsyth County, Spivey said. “I’m just excited for her,” Spivey said. “Education is kind of a family thing for us.”

Moulton, a graduate of Warner Robins High, said the attitude of her fellow teachers and the support she received from administrators played a large part in her achieving the honor.

“I work in a great system, and I have great kids,” Moulton said. “Thank you, and let’s have a wonderful year.”