‘See the sunshine through the storm’: HCS principals reflect on pandemic school year

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 9:13 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A school year unlike any other is coming to an end.

Principals with Horry County Schools are shedding light on what it was like to lead staff and students through a pandemic school year.

James LaPier has been principal at North Myrtle Beach Middle School for five years.

He said at times, the road was a bit bumpy, but the successes he witnessed inside of his school walls far outweighed any challenges. LaPier said overall, his staff and students adjusted very well to so many pandemic-related changes.

Back in August, LaPier invited our news team to the campus, as staff prepared to welcome back brick-and-mortar students inside the classrooms during the pandemic.

As he looks back on the year in its entirety, LaPier said at times, there were hurdles, but they turned into learning moments for not only his employees and students but also himself.

When times got hard, LaPier said he made sure his staff members knew their work was appreciated and everything would be OK.

“It’s our job to see the sunshine through the storm,” he said. “To see the good when maybe others are struggling to see that. "

He said that positive energy trickled down from the workers to students.

Throughout it all, he said he stayed committed to making the learning space as normal as possible so students would end the semester strong.

As the leader in the building, LaPier said he would also keep everyone informed about changes to the classroom and the plans that were in place. Looking ahead, he said he will continue to do all he can to make sure the school grounds are a safe space for all employees and your child.

“I feel like I’m Papa Bear,” LaPier said. “And when I say I feel like I’m Papa Bear, I feel like I have a responsibility to my students, to my staff and to the parents of this building to protect everyone. And when I say that, I mean, protect them academically and socially.”

Ten Oaks Middle School Principal Benjamin Prince said his staff and students also overcame some unforeseen challenges during the pandemic.

But he said the experience helped bring the relationships among staff, teachers and parents even stronger.

“I would say that we had a very successful year,” Prince said. “All of us learned a lot, about each other and the resilience of our students.”

Prince has been leading the school for five years.

He said over the past year, he’s witnessed so many parents and staff members coming together to help students overcome any pandemic-related challenges.

“Our people were helpful and supportive, both from within the building and from within our community,” Prince said. “We had a lot of support and I feel like we were able to do what was best for our kids.”

Prince said through his leadership and those on his team, everyone was able to lean on one another throughout it all.

That trickled down to the classrooms, helping students keep their focus on having a successful school year.

“We almost had to learn a new normal,” Prince said. “They overcame, it was really amazing to see and it really reflected on the strong system we have in place.”

Both principals said behind the school walls, they’re working to make the best decisions they can, for the safety of the students, teachers and staff.

“Everything we do and how we do business is very thoughtful and thorough,” Prince said. “The detail-oriented mindset we have goes behind everything.”

“A lot of the things that we do have consequences for the entire school community, so when we make the decisions, it sometimes can’t be a split-second decision,” LaPier said. “It has to be something that is well thought out and every stakeholder involved is [considered] when we make those decisions.”

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