New PS Elem and Middle School Principals speak with parents
The recently appointed principals for Philip Simmons Elementary School and Philip Simmons Middle School are still just a few weeks away from officially starting in their new roles, but the pair is already hard at work behind the scenes to get ready for the transition.
Dr. Karen Whitley, currently an associate superintendent for the Berkeley County School District, will lead Philip Simmons Elementary - and Anthony Dixon, principal of Cainhoy Elementary Middle School, will serve at the helm of Philip Simmons Middle. Their official start date is January 4. Both schools are currently under construction at a shared campus off Clements Ferry Road in an area adjacent to Nelliefield Plantation. The schools will open their doors to students in August 2016.
Whitley and Dixon served as guest speakers at a December 3 gathering of the schools’ Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), held at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. Whitley was a teacher for 20 years and also served the district as an assistant principal, principal, district supervisor, and chief academic officer during her tenure.
“I am very excited to be able to come to this community,” Whitley told the crowd. “I’ve worked with the Cainhoy community for about 10 years…and I’ve always loved coming out here. So I just feel blessed to be able to come back and really make a strong connection here.”
Whitley described herself as a “follow the rules-type of person” and said she is very much an advocate of “modeling what we want our children to do.” She also promised to maintain an open door policy that welcomes feedback.
“I just want to speak from the heart so you know what you’re getting,” said Whitley, who has two grown children (her son, Josh, is a Daniel Island resident and Berkeley County Councilman) and six grandchildren. “The way I approach life now is a little bit different than the way I approached it before grandchildren. The decisions that I made when I was a principal at Berkeley Elementary were based on what’s best for children, and would it be OK if my child were in that class. And I thought that was a pretty high standard…Now that I have six grandchildren, the standard has really gone up!”
She also told the group that she will be the type of principal that spends more time in the hallways, classrooms and other areas on campus than she will in her office during the school day.
“I think it’s really important to establish a relationship not only with the children, but also with the parents,” she said. “I believe to be an effective leader, you have to be out (interacting) with your folks.”
Whitley noted that she and Dixon have been busy visiting other schools in the state that have implemented a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum similar to what the Philip Simmons campus hopes to use.
“We’ve seen a lot of exciting things,” she said. “…I’m in the mode now that I want to learn and listen. I have a lot of ideas!…This school is about the children and the community…and we’re definitely looking for input. Mr. Dixon and I have talked about ways to actively involve everybody.”
Dixon has eight years of experience as a principal, leading Memminger School of Global Studies, Sanders-Clyde Elementary/Middle and, currently, CEMS. He also served Berkeley County School District as an assistant principal at Boulder Bluff and Daniel Island School. He began his education career as a special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities and learning disabilities.
“When I thought about attempting to come to Philip Simmons Middle School, the biggest piece, the determining factor, is I love working with community,” he said. “I love working with staff and building relationships. But it was (more about) how can I best serve students’ needs and in what capacity can I best serve all students, not just a certain population or a certain area, and make great experiences for all students.”
Dixon is hoping to work with all stakeholders to build a “world class educational opportunity” for his students.
“It’s every principal’s dream to be able to do that and to just start from the ground up…The STEAM initiative and the STEAM vision is going to be exciting and it’s going to promote a lot of learning.”
Middle school in particular, he added, has become his passion.
“The students are transitioning and really trying to find themselves. And we see so much growth in them. That’s going to be exciting - to get the students involved, let them be a part of decisions, and share their wants and needs.”
Dixon stressed that he, too, will have an open door policy with parents and will welcome feedback. He hopes to build a positive culture that focuses on creating the best behavior and best academics possible.
“It’s gonna take some creative thinking from our end and from our community and parents to be able to make all of these things happen and grow this middle school to be, as I expect it to be, the best in the country…We want to produce excellence continuously…and I am very excited to start!”
The meeting also included the official dissolution of the original PTA created last July, and the formation of two new separate organizations - the Philip Simmons Elementary PTA and the Philip Simmons Middle Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). The change was made so that volunteers could focus on the unique needs of each school, while working together to better the entire campus, and because each school will be its own entity with separate funding sources. South Carolina PTA officers Donna Timco, president-elect, and Mike Timco, District 19 president, were also in attendance for the meeting. Both told those gathered that the Philip Simmons schools’ parent community has earned a glowing reputation statewide for their early success.
“One of the things we do is go up to Columbia and spend time as a board at the state level,” noted Mike Timco. “And you’re the talk of the town - Berkeley County in general and the growth of the Philip Simmons (school community)! I can’t tell you how many times it’s come up as the largest or the fastest growing organization that doesn’t even have a school yet!”
The new schools will have websites up and running in January of 2016. In a letter sent after the meeting to the Philip Simmons school community and PTA/PTSA members, Whitley and Dixon again reiterated their desire to create a “collaborative partnership” with parents and other community members. They also asked anyone with questions to reach out to them using the contact information listed below.
Dr. Karen Whitley Principal, Philip Simmons Elementary School (843) 899-8607 email@example.com
Mr. Anthony Dixon Principal, Philip Simmons Middle School (843) 899-8975 DixonA@bcsdschools.net