‘Why are we here?’

Published 6:10 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Bertie County Schools

WINDSOR—On Wednesday, August 21, all Bertie County Schools’ staff members came together and were welcomed officially to the 2019-2020 school year at the annual Convocation celebration.

We are #BuildingaBetterBertie, and “The Best is Yet to Come.”

As Pastor Jay Rivenbark of Open Door Church said prior to the morning prayer, Convocation by its very definition means the coming together of all kinds of individuals with all kinds of talents and abilities, all with the one purpose and one focus to accomplish. He emphasized the appropriateness of the occasion and prayed for the safety and success of every child for the upcoming school year.

The Bertie High School JROTC posted the Colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, which was led by Amara Jenkins, at first grader at Aulander Year Round Elementary School.

The Bertie County Community Choir sang an inspiring melody, followed by select words from John Trent, the Chair of the Bertie County Commissioners. Trent remarked on how elated he and the commissioners are that Dr. Otis Smallwood has come back home to Bertie County to serve as superintendent.

“I like homegrown talent,” said Trent. “They stay with you through the rough and the tough, and that’s just the way it is here in Bertie; that’s what Bertie is made of.”

He reinforced the need for grassroots support of the proposed quarter-cent sales tax in Bertie County, which would be used to “pay our talent” in the school system in the form of an employee supplement.

He also introduced Assistant County Manager Juan Vaughan. Vaughan said that he understands the challenges school employees face, and that he has witnessed the successes that occur when everyone works together. He thanked those in attendance for touching the lives of children on a daily basis, as they are the ones who have been called to inspire, educate, coach, mentor and ultimately “prepare each child of Bertie County for a world beyond our county lines.”

School Board Chair Tarsha B. Dudley brought greetings for the occasion as well. She said that we have new staff; a new superintendent, and endless new opportunities—all of which will make a positive impact on students. She challenged all educators to have compassion for their students because one never knows what a child may go through at home. And she charged the kids in the audience to seek knowledge; for when kids seek knowledge, it makes teaching easy.

“You can count on the fact that you have much gratitude and support from the Board of Education,” said Dudley. “And we wish you much success this year.”

The guest speaker was Miranda Beard, past president of the National School Boards Association.

She began her message by sharing her personal story about how she was born into poverty, had no self-esteem, was regularly molested, and was often suicidal. But it was the educators in her life—not even her family—who first prepared her for life.

“It was people like you, Bertie, who influenced me,” said Beard. “People like you who sowed the seeds of inspiration and encouragement, and who made me feel like a person….my success began with leaders in the field of education.

“Children come with darkness,” she continued. “And God has a calling on you to do what is right and best for them.”

Other topics Beard touched on were realizing that, while we may not be able to fix everything, we all do have the power to influence, the ability to care, and the capacity to love and make children feel loved and cherished.

Beard challenged the audience to teach the students “where they are” and to celebrate small successes.

“Then move them to the next level,” she added.

In closing, she challenged the crowd to expect greatness from every child.

“Because there is still a seed in every ‘bad apple.’ And you may be the only one who can nourish that seed … Bertie has the right soil, the right fertilizer and the best water to nourish those seeds,” she stated.

She added, “Know why you do what you do. When you know your why, your what has much more impact….it’s not about you; it’s about the children.”

Dr. Otis Smallwood, the new superintendent for Bertie County Schools, closed out the morning with his important message.

He began by saying that he knows that the staff and faculty have high hopes of him; and on the other side of the coin, he stated that he also has high expectation of them.

“As you are sizing me up, I am sizing you up too,” he said.

He thanked every organization, the media outlets, former educators, elected officials in attendance and all who have supported him thus far. And he publicly thanked God.

Dr. Smallwood encouraged educators to focus on the whole child—academics as well as the meeting of each child’s social and emotional needs.

“If our students are well,” he said, “we will be also.”

He reminded those in attendance that, “What you expect from others, you must first be willing to give away.”

“I am with you for the long haul,” said Smallwood. “And I need each one of you to hang with me.”

He continued to share nuggets of encouragement on providing customer service in this business of educating children.

“Love is an action,” he said. “Practice what you preach, and walk the talk. Leadership is not a title or position; is it action and example.”

Dr. Smallwood’s three main focuses for the year are:


  1. Learning and Teaching (and there is a reason why “learning” comes first)
  2. Recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers
  3. Building solid relationships between and among all stakeholder.

He encouraged professional growth as the district works together to address these challenges. He said that if you get to be too comfortable, you cannot grow.

In closing, he said, “We got this.”

He sang the lyrics, “Don’t Give up on Me, as we ‘build a better Bertie.’”

The words from Trent and the welcome from Tarsha Dudley were punctuated by the beloved Roll Call and introduction of staff when each school and department was recognized, applauded and got a chance to show that school and Bertie pride.

Michael White, the new Executive Director of Human Resources and Operations, facilitated the event, kept the program moving and introduced the superintendent on a formal and personal level.

All attendees enjoyed biscuits from “Y’all Eat Yet?” food truck, as well as additional sweet muffins, pastries and juices for breakfast, prior to the start of the ceremony.