Welcome home

Published 11:06 am Monday, November 21, 2011

Part 1 of a 2 part series

WINDSOR – It’s the place you are most comfortable.

The place you belong; the place where everyone knows your names; it’s home.

Last week, Rickey Eley returned to his professional home – Bertie High School when he was named principal of the school he has spent the majority of his career working to make better.

“I’ve told a lot of people I was at Bertie High School for 13 years of my career, so it is like a homecoming,” Eley said. “I know every nook and cranny of this campus. I know which doors you have to kick to open and which windows have to be closed from the outside.”

Eley said he had been welcomed by the staff members of Bertie High, especially those who remember him from his time as a teacher, assistant principal and co-principal of the school.

“People have been very welcoming,” he said. “Those who worked with me before have come by and said welcome home.”

Home has been a long and winding road for both Eley and the high school. He started teaching there in 1995 as a drafting teacher and then spent several years as an assistant principal.

He was named one of three co-principals at Bertie along with Sharon Bond and Bill Hawkins, but the latter retired after the first year and left Eley and Bond to head the school.

After two years in that role, Eley served the Bertie school system Director of Operations, Director of Student Services and principal of the alternative school before being named Principal of Colerain Elementary School July 1.

Bertie High School has been through a similar succession having had three principals in four years before the 2011-12 academic year. This year the school had five different leaders before Eley was named to the post.

Eley said he was aware of what was happening at Bertie High with transitions from retirements to suspensions to resignations, but was more focused on his job.

“Colerain is an excellent school,” Eley said. “The biggest thing about Colerain is it has an excellent staff. The community is very supportive.”

The principal said he made changes that caused issues with some people in the community, but after a few days things worked well because the community members realized they were for the best.

“The staff and community are exceptional in Colerain,” he said.

In addition, the first benchmark scores for the year came out and the school led the county in achievement.

While that was going on, Eley said he was hearing things that were happening at Bertie High School. Asked if he ever thought about being the answer the problems he said that wasn’t his train of thought.

“My biggest concern was the turnover and how it was affecting the teachers and students,” he said. “The best school is one that is stable in administration and in the classroom and the constant change here was affecting that.

“I never thought about it in terms of fixing it, but I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Eley said. “I felt like if they ever asked me to come here again I could be successful.”

Then came the telephone call.

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins told Eley the board of education had voted to transfer him to Bertie High School and asked if he would accept the job.

After taking a few days to talk the situation over with his wife and a few confidants, Eley spoke with Dr. Harris-Rollins and accepted the transfer.

The obvious first difference in his administration this time is Eley is not a co-principal, but the single head of the school. He said he realizes the difference.

“Now when I have ideas I don’t have to tweak them to fit someone else’s thought process,” he said. “The bottom line is that as principal, you’re the person who is responsible. It is your job to make sure you put into place the things necessary to make the school a better place.”

While he knew there was some fallout from the changes in administration, Eley said he found the staff ready and eager to embrace a leader that was in for the long haul.

“When I came in, even though there had been inconsistent leadership, I found things were going pretty well,” he said. “The two assistant principals – Ms. (Tyneka) Holley and Mr. (Joseph) Hollington were doing a great job. They just needed leadership and we needed to make some procedural changes.”

Eley has the background to provide that leadership. In addition to his work experience, he has a Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia State University and a Master’s in Education and School Administration from Cambridge College.

Part two of the series will look at what Eley hopes to accomplish as he takes over the high school.