Academic Pride: WCPS officials (from left) Dr. John Quinn, Dr. Annette Wallace, Steve Price, Superintendent Lou Taylor Vince Tolbert stand in the foyer of the board of education building.
Worcester County Public Schools proudly celebrates 150 years of outstanding accomplishments in education and the richness of its diversity
Written by Victor Fernandes / Portrait by Grant L. Gursky
The foyer inside the Worcester County Board of Education building took an eye-opening step back in time to pave the way to an exciting future.
Gone are the nondescript yellow walls and green floor, and a well-worn sign that seemingly faded away behind years of corrosion. The entrance came alive with a fresh coat of paint, new flooring and photos showcasing Worcester High School students who, in the aftermath of segregation, continue to be a beacon of pride for Worcester County Public Schools, which celebrates 150 years of quality education this year.
It was a collaborative effort, from within the building and throughout the county, because the school district’s tradition is built on people from many backgrounds coming together as one. #WeAreWorcester, as the hashtag emblazoned above the double doors leading into the heart of the building signifies, is more than a motto. It’s a way of life for teachers, school officials, students and families past and present who have played key roles in bringing one of Maryland’s most productive school districts year after year to such a momentous anniversary in its history.
The dramatic changes to the Board of Education building’s foyer was merely a small part of the transformation taking place during the 2018-19 academic year. The maintenance staff painted walls and restored the building’s dedication plaque, while Lowe’s of Pocomoke City donated new flooring. A Pocomoke High School student designed a large ‘W’ sign that hangs inside, and students from Worcester Technical High School next door designed the layout of the foyer, as well as a time capsule featuring items from all 12 elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools in Ocean City, Berlin, Snow Hill and Pocomoke in the district that will remain sealed in the corner of the lobby for the next 50 years.
“The community of Worcester County is a very different place than anywhere else. We have three distinct communities that are so different from one another,” said Dr. Annette Wallace, the school district’s assistant superintendent and chief operating officer. “I think that diversity is part of what makes us so special. The differences bring us together and make us stronger and better.”
Long before the year-long academic celebration began in the fall, serious reflection took place among Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor and his staff. An occasion of this magnitude needs a message that resonates for the next 150 years. That was especially important to Taylor, a 1978 Stephen Decatur High School graduate who has served as a teacher, principal and now superintendent in the school district for 36 years.
“I believe our school system is the cornerstone of this community,” Taylor said, and they couldn’t look ahead without honoring where it all began. Headlining the anniversary celebration in February was a dedication Wallace called “one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen. That will be a moment of my career that I will never forget.” Worcester High School alumni and teachers, roughly 50 in all, representing 17 years as the county’s lone high school for African American students (1953-70) joined hands in the foyer and sang the school’s alma mater, “We Stand on Guard for Thee.”
The school year began with the annual Opening Kickoff event at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City. The spirit of the school district’s 150th anniversary came to life, both within the hundreds of people in attendance and the theme Taylor coined, “Making It Magical.”
“We wanted to do some special things to recognize the outstanding educational system that we believe we have,” Taylor said.
District officials also looked to the past while planning the 32nd annual Teacher of the Year banquet. On March 29, educators spanning 150 years were honored alongside the four finalists for the prestigious award, which a week later was presented to Gina Russell, a special education teacher at Snow Hill Elementary School.
“We’re honoring everybody who plays a role in making sure we’ve had 150 years of excellence in education,” said Carrie Sterrs, the school district’s coordinator of public relations and special programs.
District officials unveiled a 150th anniversary logo, created by a team of school-system alumni who have gone on to start their own local marketing business. A new logo will take its place July 1, the opening day of the 2019-20 academic year. The new logo will be chosen from submissions to a community-wide contest. “While we have three distinct communities, they can all come together under that Worcester County Public Schools banner,” Sterrs said. “An anniversary like this is just another way for everybody to come together.”
It took the entire Worcester County community to put together a year-long celebration like this. Which is appropriate, Wallace pointed out, because it took the entire community to build 150 years of tradition in Worcester County Public Schools.
“That’s what makes our school system special,” Wallace said. “Every single person is a piece of thread that is joined together to make the beautiful fabric of our school system. If you take one out, it’s just not the same.”