Thursday, April 24, 2014
Sometime before June 1, Donna Hooks, the only principal Burgess Elementary School has ever known, will close the door to her office and call it a career — at least for a couple of days.
While there will be a new principal, many of the goals and achievements Hooks and her community have worked for will remain. It’s not surprising to the people who know Hooks.
“I think the biggest thing about Donna is her heart. Then there’s the caring about the kids and her community,” said Dottie Brown, Horry County’s executive director for elementary schools who worked with Hooks in a number of capacities. “Donna promotes leadership, she promotes kids being in control.”
Hooks takes no credit for the awards garnered by her school, including being named a national School of Character in 2013, among Palmetto’s Finest in 2012 and several gold and silver awards from the state.
“The awards are great, but it’s what’s behind the awards that is gratifying,” she said.
“Everyone in this building goes way beyond,” Hooks said, bristling a bit at the suggestion that she was responsible for the honors gained since the school opened its doors in 2007.
“It’s effort, not luck, from everyone.”
She notes that each Burgess student is proud to be a “lifelong leaders and learners.”
“If we expect our children to believe that, we have to model that.”
It is not surprising to see faculty, staff and students spending extra time at school or working extra hard on projects.
“If you get satisfied, you get stagnant,: she said. That’s most likely why even though she has time built up over her decades-long career with Horry County Public Schools, she’s already planned to present at two June conferences. Maybe then she’ll clean out her office.
While Hooks may be leaving Burgess, she is not leaving the area.
“It’s home,” she said simply. “This is my community. I have lived her for 36 years. I shop here, I go to church here.”
She is a charter member of Timberlake Baptist Church and is a deacon, and she serves on the board of the Greater Burgess Community Association.
She said she’s both happy and sad to leave.
“I turned in my letter of resignation and realized that it would mean I will not see children’s faces each day,” she said.
But she does have plans. She has elderly relatives who she wants to spend time with.
She is going on vacation to Hawaii and then maybe she will take up quilting, or making wedding cakes. But she knows she will always be home here.
From the start, she included Burgess Elementary in the community and the community in the school.
The building houses a museum that traces the history of the Burgess Community and students interviewed community members for the historic vignettes that adorn the old post office replica and other items.
She stresses that to be a leader, it’s important to be a servant leader, to bring others along with you. The school each year welcomes back the winners of the William Burgess Award, given annually to a fifth-grader who exhibits academic and leadership. “It’s a big deal. The students apply for it, they interview for it,”
She said that each year the former winners come back and talk to the students, who hang on their every word. But they also talk to the teachers, explaining how Burgess contributed to their successes. “We take very seriously our mission that they become well-established members of society. It doesn’t stop here,” she said.
She explained that when the school opened, we got together to talk about what makes a school good and what makes a school the best. It was a conscious decision to choose the sea turtle as a mascot.
“You have the B for Burgess, the E for elementary, the S for sea and the T for turtle. It was no accident. We wanted to be the best.”