Wando principal is nation's best
MOUNT PLEASANT -- Wando High School Principal Lucy Beckham was told the special Monday morning assembly was to honor the school's athletic department with a statewide award.
Beckham's supervisor arranged an off-site meeting for her prior to the ceremony, so she was the last to arrive at the school's auditorium. Everyone but Beckham knew the real reason for the gathering -- the announcement that she had won the 2010 National High School Principal of the Year award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley began the assembly by talking about the importance of athletic programs and the awards won by Wando High. But after a few sentences into her speech, she told the crowd she actually was there to talk about something different. She started complimenting Beckham and her leadership, saying not only is Beckham among the best in the district but that she's been named the top high school principal in the country.
The roughly 700 students, parents, teachers and school leaders in the auditorium broke into applause and cheers while the on-stage curtain swung back to reveal Beckham's family, local and state officials and members of the marching band playing with gusto. Streamers and sparkly confetti poured from the ceiling while Beckham smiled, shook her head and enveloped her grandchildren, children, siblings and mother in hugs. The rest of the school watched a live broadcast of the announcement in their classrooms.
Beckham became a candidate for the national honor after being named the 2009 Secondary Principal of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. She was among three national finalists for the national award that honors secondary school principals who have succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students and made exemplary contributions to the profession. Sheila Kahrs, principal of Haymon-Morris Middle School in Winder, Ga., was named the national middle school winner.
Beckham will be recognized during an awards banquet next month in Washington, D.C., and she will receive $5,000 for school-based projects or training for staff.
Beckham has been an educator for more than 33 years, an administrator for 15 years and principal of Wando, the state's largest high school, since 1998. She oversaw the school's move into its new building in 2004, and she helped create four career-related schools of study and a ninth-grade academy to ensure students have more opportunities for personal connections. Students meet weekly with faculty advisers and, as upperclassmen, with an administrator or counselor who monitors and supports them through graduation.
Under Beckham's leadership, Wando has been the recipient of numerous statewide and national accolades. The school was named one of the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report, its band was recognized as best in the nation, and both its newspaper and culinary arts programs have garnered national honors.
After receiving the award, Beckham told those gathered that this honor wasn't about her and that it was their award. She credited teachers, students, parents and the community for making the school the great place that it is. She called it a principal's dream to be in a town such as Mount Pleasant, where officials support the school any way they can.
"Wando is an incredible place," she said. "Everyone here is committed to excellence."
Retired Associate Superintendent Lynda Davis, who's known Beckham for years and once was her supervisor, said Beckham understands that leadership and power is about giving it away, and she is tremendously inclusive in terms of the school and broader community.
"She understands the pulse of the whole school," she said.
George McCrackin, one of Beckham's mentors who hired her as a teacher and then assistant principal at Stratford High, said Beckham always puts children first, is a great organizer and motivator, and has a natural knack for pulling people together and getting them involved. McCrackin taught Beckham what he knew about school administration, and Beckham took that knowledge and ratcheted it up a few notches, he said.
"She is, by far, the best," he said. "I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with her."
State Superintendent Jim Rex said Beckham's energy, vision, compassion and intellect are what schools so desperately need to compete in the 21st century, and Beckham has made the Mount Pleasant community and state a better place to live. Although Beckham's legacy continues to be developed, this award marks an incredible milestone on that journey, he said.
McGinley agreed, saying that of all the principals she's known in her career as an educator, "no one rises to the top like Lucy Beckham."
"She is a local superstar for good reason," she said.