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W.S. Neal teacher Susan McKenzie named Rachel Patterson principal

By By Adam Prestridge
New Rachel Patterson Elementary School principal Susan McKenzie is already busy at work preparing next year's schedule since being hired last Tuesday.
McKenzie, a Brewton resident who served as the Alabama Reading First Initiative (ARFI) coach at W.S. Neal Elementary School last year, was hired during a special called meeting of the Escambia County Board of Education last week where many employment changes were made.
"I'm very excited and very thrilled to be at Rachel Patterson," McKenzie said. "I feel very honored to be put in this position. Right now I'm in the process of working beside Mrs. (Beth) Drew and going through procedures and some of the things that have to be done before school starts."
Tuesday, the news still had not completely sunken in for McKenzie.
"I'm still in awe," McKenzie added. "I'm very excited to have the opportunity and look for good things to happen here. As a reading coach, reading is very much my passion and I want to continue the many good things Mrs. Drew has implemented with the ARFI program. I feel very strongly about reading and believe that it's going to be a critical part of my tenure at Rachel Patterson."
McKenzie fills the shoes of Beth Drew, who served as principal at Rachel Patterson for six years and was promoted to elementary supervisor with the BOE in late May. She said she looks forward to working with the wonderful teachers at Rachel Patterson, but knows Drew's shoes will be hard to fill.
"I've heard wonderful things about the faculty and staff here," she said. "I've been fortunate to meet some of the staff and everyone's been very cordial and welcoming. Of course, I think the world of Mrs. Drew. I have a great deal of respect for her and what she's done here at Rachel Patterson. She leaves behind some big shoes to have to fill. I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone here, not only on a processional basis, but a personal level as well. We'll go from there."
Drew, who said that she'll miss the day-to-day interaction with her students and faculty at Rachel Patterson the most, will still have the opportunity to work with the staff at Rachel Patterson in her new supervisory role. She is certain that McKenzie will do well in her new role and that the parents and community will be pleased with her work.
"I think she's going to do a great job," Drew said. "She's very excited to be apart of the Atmore community. I think she'll do a super job in the area of reading because she has such an extensive background in reading. I believe we'll continue to see steady growth in the area of reading, as well as, in other areas. I believe everyone will be happy and pleased with her ability to lead the students and staff to continued success at Rachel Patterson."
McKenzie said her main goals her first year at Rachel Patterson are to have continued success in the ARFI program, see another increase in reading scores and to see more gains in other assessments. In fact, she said Rachel Patterson's ARFI program was one thing that attracted her to the job.
"I was very much interested in the fact that Rachel Patterson is an ARFI school and that the program was already in place," McKenzie said. "I felt like I could come in and contribute to the reading program because I am familiar with the program. Rachel Patterson has the reputation as being one of the outstanding schools in our system. I felt that I had some things that I was familiar with as a reading coach and implement to pursue the goal of 100 percent literacy."
McKenzie's overall goal is to ensure that all students are reading on their grade level and are ready for the transition to A.C. Moore.
As for immediate changes, McKenzie doesn't plan on making many.
"This first year, I'm pretty much going to follow a lot of what Mrs. Drew already has in place and see how things flow," she said. "I don't advocate a lot of changes. I want to test the waters and learn the personnel and we'll go from there. I'm not about a lot of huge changes to begin with. I want to take small baby steps. There will be some changes to come, but nothing drastic."
McKenzie, who is a native of Monroe County, worked at W.S. Neal for eight years where she not only served as the school's ARFI reading coach, but as a first and second grade teacher. Prior to W. S. Neal, she worked at Beatrice Elementary School for two years and Frisco City Elementary for five.