Two Greenville County Schools leaders were ranked at the top among their peers Friday by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA).
Principal Rhonda Rhodes of Taylors Elementary School was named the 2019 SCASA Elementary Principal of the Year, and Assistant Principal Leah Stafford of Simpsonville Elementary was named the 2019 SCASA Elementary Assistant Principal of the Year.
Each year SCASA, a statewide organization for school administrators, selects the top candidates for principals and assistant principals at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
Greenville County Schools swept the elementary awards for 2019.
The criteria for both awards are set by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Both administrators were surprised by the news at assemblies Friday morning, where students and family members greeted them with signs and applause.
“Rhonda has done an outstanding job at Taylors Elementary. In addition to building a culture of trust, collaboration, and warmth, her students’ academic performance continues to improve,” Superintendent Burke Royster said in a statement. “Rhonda’s focus on meeting each student’s individual needs epitomizes the idea of a student-centered focus.”
Rhodes, who has led Taylors Elementary for five years, received her master’s in educational leadership and administration from Clemson University. Prior to Taylors Elementary, she worked for the School District of Oconee County and Anderson School District 1.
“I try to run my school like I run my family. These kids are my family, my students are my family,” Rhodes said. “I think that’s the heart of leadership — is to inspire others to see it [leadership] in themselves and to find their own ways.”
In a statement, Jackie Earle, principal of Simpsonville Elementary, said Stafford puts her students first.
“She works hard with the faculty and staff to improve instructional practices while always remembering that students need to love learning,” Earle said. “Leah inspires the students to become lifelong learners through her daily interaction with them. She realizes that it is a cooperative effort from all aspects of a child’s life that helps to nurture a child’s inquisitive spirit.”
Stafford has been at Simpsonville Elementary for three years. She received a graduate degree from Grand Canyon University in curriculum instruction and literacy, and a degree from Southern Wesleyan University in elementary education administration and supervision. Prior to Taylors Elementary, she worked at Chandler Creek Elementary School and Heritage Elementary School.
“Our role in elementary school is to really let the kids have fun and be engaged and [get them] viewing this as a great place to be, a place they want to come to every day,” Stafford said. “A lot of times, assistant principals are looked at as just discipline or just management or just textbooks or just buses, but I think, especially assistant principals, have this unique gift of taking that role and expanding it further, looking for unique opportunities to build through that.”