- Patrick McKnight
- Katherine Hardee
- Jordan Johnson
- Demetric Russell
- Leslie Adams
- Shala Lewis
- Sissy Smith
- Kasandra Durant
- Steve Welch
- Lindsey Bibler
- Roy Ann Jolley
As a middle school student, Patrick McKnight thought he was interested in entering the medical field to work in dermatology. During his senior year at Wilson High School, though, he knew that he had truly found his path.
“When I got into high school my interest in teaching started sparking,” McKnight said. “I solidified that my senior year when I participated in teacher cadets. It was then that I knew teaching was for me.”
McKnight credits Mrs. River-Davis at Wilson for showing him just how amazing teaching could be.
“My coordinating teacher Mrs. River-Davis was wonderful,” McKnight said. “She really opened the educational world and I saw the benefits of being an educator and what it could do, not only for myself but also for the generations after me that I would be affecting.”
McKnight taught kindergarten at North Vista Elementary for three years before moving to Brockington Elementary where he has been for the last five years.
“When I started doing field experiences I knew that young people were my niche,” McKnight said. “My kindergarten teacher inspired me to not only want to be a teacher but to want to be a good person. I know that I will do all I can, and show my students all the love I can, while I have them.”
McKnight, Brockington’s current Teacher of the Year, said that Mrs. River-Davis instilled a love for learning and a pride in academics in him. He hopes to impart that same wisdom to his students.
“Students are always watching everything you do so being an example for them is essential,” McKnight said. “That is important at any age but with this age (first grade) that is especially true. You can instill those core values and that mindset for education now and, hopefully, it will continue and you will be raising up great men and great women.”
After graduating from West Florence, Katherine Hardee wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do in college and beyond. Both of her parents were educators in Florence 1, her father taught orchestra at Williams and Wilson and her mother taught kindergarten at Greenwood, but she didn’t see that path for herself. Somehow, after finishing a degree in history, she still found herself drawn to it.
Hardee said she worked as a manager at Books A Million and occasionally as a substitute teacher after college. Eventually, her mother suggested that she go through an alternative certification program and become a teacher.
“Apparently this was my calling,” Hardee said laughing. “I think I tried to avoid it and then I still ended up here; if it is what you are meant to do, you will get there somehow. I get along well with kids and I really enjoy teaching. I completed the PACE program and started teaching social studies.”
Returning to the district she graduated from was a strange experience, Hardee said, notably when former teachers told her to call them by their first names.
“It was very weird when I came back as a teacher, especially when I worked at Sneed because I had gone to school at Sneed,” Hardee said. “There were teachers working there when I started who had been my teachers. Now I’ve been here long enough that I’ve taught kids and then they’ve come back and taught in the building with me.”
After several years teaching social studies at Sneed, she joined the Middle Years IB Programme (MYP) at Williams Middle School in 2009 and she has been there ever since. She served as the interim MYP Coordinator last school year before removing the interim title this year.
“MYP is meant to be a well-rounded education, similar to what you’d get at a liberal arts college,” Hardee said. “You are experiencing a little bit of everything which helps you see what’s out there. One of the big benefits of it is that students can potentially leave the program at Williams with five high school credits. If students don’t know what they want to do in life but they know that art or STEM is not their thing, this would be a really good place for them. It is so well rounded that they can find so many other things they might be interested in.”
Hardee said that with her own children now in Florence 1, it is amazing to see all of the programs that are available now.
“When I was in school there were one or two classes that you could take that earned you high school and college credit and that was it,” Hardee said. “I think it is so great that kids have all of these opportunities now. We have come a very long way. I don’t feel like we were prepared in terms of knowing all the different career opportunities available. Students need to know their options, that way they can find something that they are passionate about before they finish college.”
To say that being an educator runs in the family for Jordan Johnson would be an understatement. Her mother, grandmother and both of her aunts have all been teachers. Currently, she and her husband both work in Florence 1. Johnson said working in the district she graduated from “feels like home.”
After graduating from South Florence High School, Johnson earned her bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education. She also obtained her master's degree in Language and Literacy which allowed her to be certified K-12, meaning she could teach at any grade level. After earning her degrees, she moved back home to Florence not expecting to stay long.
“I moved back to Florence and lived with my parents for a year while I was figuring out what I wanted to do,” Johnson said. “It was during the Recession and no one was really hiring but I ended up getting a job at West Florence where my mom was working. I thought I would work there for one year and then move to Greenville but then I met my husband Greg and the rest is history.”
Johnson spent five years teaching an academic enrichment class at West Florence before she had her first child and took a break. After several years of teaching at a virtual school, and after having her second child, Johnson decided she was ready to come back to a physical classroom. After looking at her options, she found the school that seemed just right for her: Briggs Elementary School.
“Briggs has changed a lot since I was a student here but at the same time it hasn’t changed, it is still that sweet little neighborhood school that I went to,” Johnson said. “The updates and changes have just made everything that much better.”
She said that everything has come full circle with her own children now attending Briggs.
And though she graduated as a Bruin, you’ll now find her many days cheering for their cross-town rivals, decked out in West Florence green, supporting her husband who is the Knight’s Athletic Director. She said occasionally for spirit days she’ll pull out the old Blue and Gold but she is also more than happy to represent the place she got her start as a teacher in Florence 1 and the school that means so much to her family.
“My kids are already talking about where they will go to high school,” Johnson said laughing. “No one talks about where they are going to go to high school when they’re eight but we do because that is our life. Their daddy is there all the time and when we get a free minute, we are there too. The kids are always running around on the field and I tell them they are the luckiest kids in the world. Florence 1 truly is my family. We are not Clemson fans but we are “All In”
For Demetric Russell, being a teacher at Sneed Middle School is a surreal experience having been a Squire himself as a middle schooler. He said that his goal was to go into finance after graduating from West Florence but “the grace of God” sent him on another path that led to his current role as a Social Studies teacher.
“I wanted to become a school counselor but my spirit was also telling me that I could possibly be a great AP or principal and I knew I would need that classroom time,” Russell said. “I felt that I could assist our youth in overcoming whatever adversities they might be going through, especially because I felt like I could relate.”
With a degree in Psychology from Coker University, Demetric said that he feels like he has insight into student behaviors and why people make the decisions they do, something he uses to help students understand the importance of the decisions that they make.
“At this age, they are trying to figure out ‘Do I go left or do I go right’,” Russell said. “It is so difficult to identify which way you need to go if you don’t have anyone to push you or assist. I try to be an example to the students because everything that they are doing, either I did or my peers did. I’ve gone through it and I’ve seen people go through it so I can tell them, ‘You don’t want to do that because this is what’s going to happen.” It has me work a lot harder because I don’t want to see them, at a crucial point in their life, throw their life away because they made a wrong decision.”
Along with teaching at Sneed, Russell has been a coach. This year, he took on a new challenge: South Florence Men’s Volleyball.
“Sneed molded me into the coach that I am,” Russell said. “I had great success coaching at Sneed and when the opportunity came to be the varsity men’s volleyball coach, I wanted to try something new. I think that this has been great for the school and the district.”
Russell said that many current and former district employees have helped him get to where he is now. Ms. Doris Brown at Sneed was one person who influenced him as a student.
“Ms. Brown had a gift for pushing students,” Russell said. “She knew how to help us understand what it took to be successful, especially when it came to the different challenges we were being faced with as an adolescent. Now, I look at working here as giving back to the school that helped me grow.”
Growing up, Leslie Adams always knew exactly what she wanted to be: a teacher.
“I really wanted to be a kindergarten teacher,” Adams said. “When I was little, that was all I talked about. I never thought of being anything other than a kindergarten teacher. When I started college as an education major, I even worked in a daycare. Working with kids was just always a passion.”
Later, though, Adams said she found her passion was teaching math.
“I had some very influential math teachers in school like Ms. Barber at South Florence and Ms. Miller,” Adams said. “I ended up changing my major in college and I wanted to be a math teacher.”
As a math educator, Adams has spent the last 25 years making an impact on students in Florence 1. She started her teaching career at Timrod Elementary School in 2nd grade. She taught at the school for 13 years before moving to Moore Middle School when the, then Intermediate School, got a new building on Westfield Drive. Adams worked under Carol Schweitz as principal at both Timrod and Moore.
“I started at Moore when the new building opened and it was 5th and 6th grade,” Adams said. “I went through the grade-level transition and it was stressful but it was also really neat to see because some of our students spent four years here. To be able to see the growth from year to year is so rewarding. When those students left us it was hard, they were like heartstrings to me.”
Adams currently teaches pre-algebra and she said she loves the opportunity it allows her to form relationships with students.
“I might not be able to get to everybody but I can make connections with the students I have and let them know that I’m here,” Adams said. “I want them to know that they can always come to me. I had those teachers and I love, now as an adult, being able to tag them in those posts on Facebook asking ‘Who was your favorite teacher growing up?’ because I want them to know the impact they had on me. ”
As a parent with students who have and are attending school in Florence 1, Adams said it has been wonderful to see the advances the district has made since she was a student
“It is so amazing to see how things have changed from when I was in school until now,” Adams said. “All of the STEM stuff and the Project Based Learning that allows them to think outside the box. We have come a long way.”
Shala Lewis said as a student in Florence 1, she never imagined she would end up working for the district she graduated from. She had plans to own her own hair salon and attended cosmetology school after graduating from Wilson. After completing cosmetology school, though, she realized that was not the path for her.
“My mom was working in the Clerk’s Office and an accounting position came open in Family Court,” Lewis said. “The Clerk at the time took a chance on me because I didn’t have a degree; I didn’t go to college after high school. When she did that, that was the turning point for me and I decided I wasn’t going to sit on that blessing. I decided that I was going to go back to school and get the degree to back it up. I got my undergraduate at Limestone and had such a good experience that I decided to get my master's.”
Lewis attended Webster University, earning both an MBA and a Masters in Human Resources Management from their dual-master’s program. After earning those degrees, Lewis realized she wanted a role with more responsibilities. That is what led her back to Florence 1, where she now works as a Data Manager in the Human Resources Department.
“It was scary to make the decision to walk away from a job after 15 years but I’m glad I did,” Lewis said. “Coming back to the school district that I graduated from is pretty cool. One day I actually saw one of my old teachers, Ms. Carpenter, who taught me at Southside. Even all these years later, she said she remembered me.”
Last year, Lewis visited Wilson for the first time as a district office staff member. She said that it was a unique experience.
“It is different coming back now,” Lewis said. “The school seemed so big when you were a student. Now, I just get this feeling walking through the school, knowing that I walked these halls twenty-something years ago and the school is still in existence. Now that I am an employee, I would say that it is an honor to serve the district where I got my education from. I am serving the community where I grew up.”
Sissy Smith says that she graduated from West Florence High School unsure about what she wanted to study in college. However once she was at Francis Marion, working in the Writing Lab, she knew her calling was in teaching.
“My mom was an English teacher,” Smith said. “My friends and I would count words for her on her term papers because they had to have a certain number of words. I hated that and I thought grading papers was horrible so I was very adamant about not going into teaching. I worked in the writing lab because it was required as part of one of my classes and I caught the teaching bug bad; I just fell in love with it.”
She was a classroom teacher for 8 years but these days you’ll find her in the Media Center at West Florence.
“Working in the media center is really the best of all worlds,” Smith said. “It is the best of teaching, the best of helping kids, working with technology. It gives you so many opportunities to see everything, all the ins and outs of the school.”
Smith said it was a former West Florence librarian who encouraged her to make the move.
“When I started teaching here, I was upstairs and I would look through the window down into the media center and see what was going on down here,” Smith said. “I worked really closely with one of the librarians and she encouraged me to get my Master’s in Library Science. Her partner in the library retired and she told me to think about working in the library. I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave the classroom but I have loved this transition. ”
Working at the school she graduated from has been great because she loves the Knight community.
“It was weird but so much fun to come back to West Florence as a teacher,” Smith said. “I wound up teaching in my freshman English class, where you had crushes and when you walked in everything looked so big. Walking in as a teacher, it seemed so small. Going to pep rallies is a blast because you still get those feelings you got as a student. This Kastle is the Kastle; it will always be the same. I love it and I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
For Kasandra Durant, being a teacher was always her dream. While attending school in Florence 1, her teachers helped foster her love of teaching.
“I just always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Durant said. “I always asked my parents for a desk and they got me one for Christmas one year. I was really inspired by Ms. Jolley, my third-grade teacher, and Mrs. McFadden my sixth-grade teacher.”
By the time she was a high schooler at South Florence, she had begun to think that perhaps she wanted to go another route, though she soon found herself coming back to teaching.
“When I got into high school, I started getting interested in computer science so I started turning to that,” Durant said. “I did my first year of college in computer science and it wasn’t me, so I came back to teaching.”
As a student teacher, she worked with a first-grade teacher at McLaurin Elementary School and she never left.
“I went to Francis Marion and I did my student teaching at McLaurin in a first-grade classroom,” Durant said. “The next year, my cooperating teacher was going to the Reading Recovery Program. The principal offered me the first-grade job and I have been here ever since.”
Today, Durant works as McLaurin’s Literacy Coach.
“I am responsible for professional development when it comes to reading and writing,” Durant said. “I am also over Multi-Tiered Systems of System, making sure students get what they need for Tier 2 instruction. One of the reasons that I love my job is because I work with the teachers, but I also get to be with the kids. I love the children. My motto has always been “All children can learn, we just have to figure out HOW they learn.”
After more than 30 years at McLaurin, Durant said she still has a passion for teaching and her Scottie family.
“The best part about being a teacher is seeing the growth, seeing where students start and where they finish,” Durant said. “I keep up with students and, now, I can go out into the world and see them in many different places; it is just amazing. It makes you want to get up every day and do it all over again. McLaurin is family. It doesn’t matter who comes or who goes, we just always connect.”
Steve Welch’s classroom at Greenwood Elementary School is full of pennants, from Clemson University to the US Naval Academy. They are more than just decoration though: each one represents a student. Welch has been a teacher in the REACH program in Florence 1 Schools since 1997 and can tell you the story of each student represented by a pennant.
Welch is a graduate of Florence 1, having attended Delmae Elementary, Moore Middle, and both West Florence and Wilson, the latter being where his mother worked.
“My mom was a teacher and she told me that if I didn’t straighten up, she was going to take me to Wilson so she could keep an eye on little rebellious me,” Welch said laughing. “Well, I bucked her and lost.”
During his two years at Wilson, Welch played soccer, something he enjoyed playing all the way through young adulthood. He said that he even keeps in touch with a few of his Wilson teammates. Two years ago, he began coaching soccer at Southside.
“For some people, it's baseball or football, but for me the passion really is soccer; I love it,” Welch said. “At Southside, I really feel like I’m supposed to be there. There are guys I’m coaching now who were with me last year and it is neat to see the improvement from one year to another. I don’t take the credit myself, but it is neat to see the outcome of what hard work does.”
Welch began teaching REACH when it was housed at North Vista and moved to Greenwood when it became a multiple-site program. He said looking back on his more than 20 years teaching REACH, it has been amazing.
“I have all kinds of stories about the kids and the things they’ve taught me,” Welch said. “ I remember one student, Robert Wells, coming in one of my first days. He said that he had learned something and he wanted to teach it to the class. Robert basically stood up in front of the fourth-grade class and, using a dry-erase board, taught them the quadratic equation. He had their attention and he was making it look easy. It just blows your mind what these kids can do. It humbles me that I am able to be just a small part of their journey. It is just awesome.”
According to Welch, becoming an educator was not in his plans when he enrolled at Francis Marion after high school, but he’s happy that it is where he ended up.
“People ask me how I got into education and I say I have no idea except that I liked working with kids,” Welch said. “I say that it was a divine calling and that this is exactly what God wanted me to do. I didn’t realize it, and I didn’t seek it out, but I guess it kind of sought me out.”
Lindsey Bibler knew from the time she was young that she wanted to be a teacher. She remembers, as a senior, flipping back through old school projects and finding a picture she drew of what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I found a book that I made in first grade all about me,” Bibler said. “We had to draw a picture of our future selves and our career and there was a picture of me with an apple on a desk. I think I always kind of knew that I wanted to be a teacher, I just went back and forth about what subject I wanted to teach.”
Bibler points to a current West Florence Knight as her inspiration for teaching math.
“I have had a lot of inspirational teachers, but one that really sticks out to me is Sherry Young,” Bibler said. “Sherry, who is now an Assistant Principal at West Florence, was my AP Calculus teacher. I would watch her teach and she was just a spitfire. I loved her so much. I have had a lot of teachers who were inspirational for one reason or another, but the way Sherry taught math, and really had a passion for it, made me want to teach that subject.”
After college, Bibler got her first teaching job at South Florence, the high school she graduated from, and she’s been there ever since.
“A lot of times people will say that you need to get more experience or you need to branch out,” Bibler said. “For me, I found that I got so much support because the people here knew me and I was comfortable going to them when I needed help or didn’t understand something. I think that made those first few years better for me as a new teacher.”
Bibler also found a new supporter that first year: her now-husband Joel, who had moved from Montana and was starting his own teaching career at South Florence. Bibler said she has loved teaching at her alma mater and raising her own family in the community she grew up in.
“I know a lot of people might say this, but South Florence really has a family feel to it,” Bibler said. “There have been a few times I’ve been like, oh, there is a position somewhere else, but I can’t see myself leaving; I just love working with these people.”
After nearly fifty years as an educator in Florence 1, Roy Ann Jolley has many stories to tell and a lot of wisdom to share. A graduate of the Wilson High School Class of 1971, Jolley has been principal at Delmae Heights Elementary School for the last 25 years. She said that she’s never even considered working in another district.
“Florence is home,” Jolley said. “To be able to work at home and make a difference at home is special.”
Jolley attended elementary school at Holmes Elementary School. During those elementary years, schools were still segregated. It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that they were fully integrated. Though she was zoned for McClenaghan High School then, she was allowed to remain at Wilson because she was a senior which suited her just fine because “I bleed purple blood,” Jolley said. “I’m one of those Tigers.”
Jolley has many memories of former teachers but when asked to name someone who inspired her, one name came immediately to mind: John Douglas, an economics teacher at Wilson.
“He was the one who showed me that learning could be fun. It could be different from the norm. I remember his grading system so well. You could earn so much money during the course of a grading period based on your assignments, your work, and your participation in class. At the end of the quarter, based on the money that you earned, you could ‘buy’ yourself an A, a B, a C, but it wasn’t necessarily buying the grade because you had worked hard. People always think social studies and history are boring but he made it innovative and fun.”
Along the way, she has had the pleasure of seeing former students become educators themselves, including Wilson’s principal Dr. Eric Robinson who she taught when he was in first grade.
Jolley’s philosophy is “If you love the kids, we can fix the rest of it” because she says loving students is always the most important starting point when solving a problem. And though she did not intend to become an educator, “I look at it now that I had one plan and God had another.”