'Old Friends and New Beginnings'

Published 7:08 am Monday, August 6, 2007

By By Tray Smith
Driving into Atmore, commuters have long been greeted by signs bearing the slogan "Old Friends and New Beginnings." To understand what that saying means, one need look no further than the changes taking place at Escambia County High School
Last week, the school board hired Carl Raley Jr. to replace former principal Kyle Ferguson Ferguson was an effective administrator who oversaw several great improvements in the high school's academic performance and reignited school spirit. But his resignation on July 20 proved he, like several of his recent predecessors, viewed his role at Escambia County High School not as a commitment to our community, but as another step on his career latter. In selecting Raley, the school board has proved it is dedicated to continuing the improvements made by Ferguson under the leadership of a true Blue Devil.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone with greater roots to both ECHS and the community than Raley, whose father worked as an administrator at ECHS for years and was involved in educating many individuals who now have kids at the school. Raley, who is the first member of the school's alumni to ever serve as principal, graduated from ECHS in 1967, played for the Blue Devils football team, and began working at the school as an administrator and math teacher seven years ago. In short, he has experience as a student, as an athlete, as a teacher and as an administrator at Escambia County High School. In short, he is an "Old Friend" leading Escambia High School to a "New Beginning."
Raley received great support from members of the community in applying for the position, as area residents have no doubt concluded that someone with a commitment to and roots in Atmore is who we need to strengthen our school pride and bring stability to the school's leadership.
But Raley is not the only "Old Friend" who will greet students when school opens next Thursday. Rodney Owens, who is a former mayor of Atmore and local chiropractor, has taken a position as the school's anatomy and physiology teacher. Linda Shuford, another local resident, will serve as one of the schools assistant principals. She has experience as an assistant principal at Escambia County Middle School, a resource teacher at Rachel Patterson Elementary School and is a very well respected English teacher who taught many of the students currently at ECHS while she was at ECMS. While great concern has been raised locally about the large number of personal changes at Escambia County High School, local residents need to realize that these changes are only part of a natural cycle, and that our area has been able to generate enough teachers to replace former staff members who commuted to work everyday. Those commuters have in turn been able to find work in their own areas. In the office alone, we will go from having one of three Atmore residents in the administrative staff of the school to having an entire administrative staff from Atmore. The sentiment around town is that we are finally taking the school back.
Escambia County High School and the Escambia County Board of Education have proven their commitment to our community by making these leadership and personnel changes, over the coming school year, it is very important that our community will return the favor to the school. Local businesses should take out advertisements in the EsCoHi, the Atmorala, and the football program. Friday night this fall, I encourage area residents to reserve at least one night and go support coach Davis and the Blue Devils football team. (Preferably when they face off against the T.R. Miller Tigers). Support for fundraisers, academic activities, and the arts (the Senior Play, the band, etc.) are also crucial to maintaining a strong school. Most importantly, parents with kids at Escambia County High School need to become actively involved in the changes taking place, and they need to support our teachers in the difficult task they have ahead.
For the first time in years, I am actually looking forward to starting school and ending my summer break. Even though I will only be at ECHS for a brief amount of time before leaving to go to Washington, I am looking forward to starting the year off on strong footing and returning to a strong institution next spring.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at tsmith_90@hotmail.com.

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