“Applause,” the sign stated.
The room full of teachers, principals and other school employees went into a frenzy, clapping and laughing.
“We want to start the year out in laughter,” Assistant Schools Superintendent Michael Barber said.
Barber, a sort of “class clown” Tuesday at the Pell City Center where hundreds of educators gathered, had the large sign made specifically for Institute Day.
“You can be serious, but you can have fun,” he said. “We want school to be fun, too.”
And Pell City teachers who attended Institute Day appeared to have fun. Educators were also serious at times, inspired by stories of compassion, hope and sacrifice. They heard stories of making a difference in someone’s life, of truly caring for others and of helping build a future for all of their students.
“Someone said to me, it must be an awesome responsibility to do what I do,” Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hathcock said. “But to me, I think of it as an awesome opportunity to influence someone.”
Hathcock said teachers influence students and help shape the future of the children they see day in and day out in the school halls, classrooms and in their communities.
“You’re making a difference,” he told educators Tuesday. “Sometimes you can’t see that, but the end results are there.”
Institute Day welcomes School System employees back to school, as well as provides them with sort of an overview or “state of the school system.”
“We’ve had less people to hire this year than any other year since I’ve been here,” Hathcock told those in attendance. “People come here and they don’t want to leave. That’s good.”
He said when he first arrived at Pell City, school officials were scratching to find math, science and special education teachers.
“Now we have files this thick with people wanting to work here,” Hathcock said, holding his fingers several inches apart. “It’s important to bring in new people with new ideas. They can inspire us.”
But he said stability is also important.
Hathcock said the School System is still facing financial uncertainties as Pell City school doors open Monday.
“We’re getting $4.7 million less (from the state),” Hathcock said. “I will tell you this, our reserve is gone.”
He said the economy continues to suffer, and the recent oil spill in the Gulf has cut into funding dollars for Alabama schools.
“One-third of our taxes are generated along the coast through tourist dollars,” he said. “We’re still in hard economic times.”
He said despite proration, services for students have not been cut.
“The half-cent sales tax is going to make a huge difference for us,” Hathcock said.
The City Council approved a 1-cent sales tax increase, and the School System will receive half of the additional revenue generated from the tax for the next four years.
Hathcock said the additional tax money should help generate another $1.1 million annually for the system.
He also said it is important for teachers to show up for work.
Hathcock said about $300,000 a year is spent with local money for substitute teachers.
He said the School System receives money from the state for substitute teachers, but it’s never enough.
“We aren’t going to get better with substitute teachers,” Hathcock said. “We need you there.”
He said people are fortunate to have jobs in today’s employment climate.
“I’ve had people in my office crying who don’t have a job,” he said. “Good people just like us who have lost jobs and have to live with relatives.”
He said teachers can make a difference, not only for their students, but for the community. They also have strong central office support to enable them to succeed with helping others.
“Many parents are hurting right now,” Hathcock said. “We want to lift them up.”
Despite hard financial times, the Pell City School System can move forward, he said.
“We have a chance to be the best school system,” Hathcock told teachers. “We’re a pretty darn good school system right now.”
When the School System faculty left the Pell City Center theatre for lunch, they got up and did exactly what Hathcock described.
Educators walked out with a “swagger” of excitement and confidence, ready for the start of the new school year.
“Our people seem to be excited and ready to go,” he said. “We’re ready for school to start.”
Contact David Atchison at email@example.com