CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The people of Conway are just one reason the community is so unique and welcoming. People like Judy Beard, South Carolina's Middle School Principal of the Year.
Beard earned the title for the work she accomplished at Loris Middle School, but now she's hoping to duplicate those results at Whittemore Park Middle School.
"She's in that cafeteria, in these hallways and in these classrooms. That's what I believe in," says Jean Burden, a teacher in Horry County, of Beard. "I believe you have to know children, know their needs, know where they're living and where they come from."
Burden has worked with Judy Beard for years and says she believes in what Beard is doing for the students of Horry County.
"What [Beard] does is she says, 'if something's not working we take it out. If it's working, let's run with it and let's talk about how to make it better'," explains Burden of her co-worker.
As principal, Beard sparked big changes at Loris Middle School, taking it from under performing to Palmetto's Finest, an honor that meant everything to the students.
"I'll never forget when we were named Palmetto's Finest Middle School, a little girl came up and said 'this is so wonderful because no one can take this away from us'," recalls Beard. "Sometimes children of poverty have a lot of things taken away and so for children to finally see that they were worthy and they had earned this and no one could take it away was validation for all the hard work that we had done."
Beard was also individually recognized for her hard work at Loris Middle School when she was named South Carolina's Middle School Principle of the Year.
She says she's humbled by the honor, but not letting it distract her from her new focus: Whittemore Park Middle School. Beard's in her first year as principal and has big plans to get the school to a high performance level.
"I love a challenge. I don't like for people to say it can't be done; I like to prove them wrong so I surround myself with good people," Beard explains. "We roll up our sleeves and get to work, but more importantly we do right by children."
One of her first initiatives at Whittemore Park was to put laptops in the hands of students, something teachers fully support.
"To go to a computer in school and do things is intuitive for kids today. Ms. Beard has always called them the digital natives," laughs Burden. "They've grown up with technology in their hands and for us to utilize what they know is just smart."
School leaders applied for a grant so they can continue bringing technology to the classrooms at Whittemore Park. Right now it is the only public middle school that made it to the final stages of the process.
"We wanted to do something different for this middle school and also this community. We know we need more children in Conway graduating from high school, more children better prepared to go to college and a big part of this grant is college and career readiness," specifies Beard.
Beard knows that part of getting the students ready for future careers is to make sure they're able to compete worldwide.
"These children are no longer in competition with other children just in Horry County, or in South Carolina, they're competing on a global level with children from other countries and so we have to do everything possible to remove barriers for our children to be successful," believes Beard.
Burden says Beard's vision for the future of education inspires her to become a better teacher and always keep learning.
"Many visionaries have great visions but don't know how to accomplish it on the day to day detail basis, and then there are people who are really good at the details but don't have the vision. I think she has both," boasts Burden of the middle school principal.
Beard plans to use that vision to change the culture of learning at Whittemore Park, just as she did at Loris Middle School.
"Teaching is the profession that makes all careers possible, so what a noble and honorable profession, to be a teacher and to be able to see that you can open doors and opportunities for children," says Beard.