This Is Carolina: St. James High School principal retires, leaving legacy as popular school administrator

Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 6:35 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Friday was a special day at St. James High School.

It was the last day of the school year, but it was also the last day of principal Vann Pennell’s career.

The longtime school administrator has retired.

Pennell is treated much more like a rock star than a principal at St. James.

He happily greeted the students as positive music blasted through the hallways of the school Friday.

One of Pennell’s signatures is asking the students to give him two claps and a “Rick Flair,” meaning a “Woo!” cheer, mimicking the legendary wrestling personality.

Pennell says he’s beyond happy to have worked with such an amazing group of students, faculty and staff.

“When you come in the building, it’s just a special feeling,” Pennell said. “I just can’t describe it. I mean it’s just amazing.”

As the last day of the school year ended, students swarmed Pennell, hoping to get one last goodbye hug or selfie in with their beloved principal.

Countless students gave him their farewells by saying, “I love you, Mr. Pennell.”

Pennell’s response, of course, was, “I love you too.”

But even the man who always has a smile on his face couldn’t help but get emotional on his last day with students.

He wiped away many tears as he waved goodbye to students driving off campus for the last time.

Pennell’s unorthodox approach to his job clearly worked. He says flooding positivity into the students’ day is his primary mission.

“Listen, they’ll get the English, the math, the science, the social studies. They’ll get it. This staff is phenomenal. What those kids need is some love and hope and reassurance. Because it’s amazing how good these kids are for where they come from,” Pennell said.

Pennell wants to make sure he leaves a lasting legacy on the students he oversaw throughout his career.

“I would turn over in my grave if they had a class reunion, and they go, ‘Now who was our principal?’ I’d come out of my grave!” Pennell joked.

Pennell also says his faith has played a major role in how he does his job.

“I think that hopefully reflects in what my wife and I try to bring to this place is good values, good morals, good ethics, good Christian attitude, and he’s been good to me. He’s been really good to me, so I’m blessed,” Pennell said.

Pennell says he’s not quite sure about what exactly his future holds, but he’s definitely looking forward to spending more time with his wife.

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