Tired of cold Ohio winters, Karen Powell was determined to begin her teaching career in Georgia.
Powell earned her degree from Ohio University this spring and moved to St. Simons Island, where she has family. One day on a visit to Savannah, she discovered Effingham County.
“I sent out about 80 resumes before I left Ohio, and this wasn’t one of the (school systems) that I had sent to,” Powell said. “I moved down here (to Georgia) and, while I was driving through, I realized I really liked this area.”
She submitted her resume to the Effingham County School District and landed her first teaching job, as a language arts teacher at South Effingham High School.
Powell is one of 71 new employees, including 28 teachers and 26 parapros, in the school district this year. They participated in a day-long orientation Friday prior to the Aug. 5 start of the school year.
“I love it so far,” Powell said.
Maintaining that enthusiasm is a key to success, Superintendent Randy Shearouse told the group.
“It’s the start of the year and they’re very excited, but you want them to keep that excitement,” Shearouse said. “They need to establish a good relationship with students and keep that relationship going — and their job will be very rewarding if that takes place.”
While Powell is a newcomer to the area, first-year teacher Hannah Patterson was born and raised in Effingham County. She was determined to teach in the county she calls home.
“I only would work in Effingham County (schools),” Patterson said. “It was Effingham County or bust.”
It took longer than she hoped, but Patterson is where she wants to be. Patterson worked as an executive assistant at Spine & Sport in Savannah during college and remained there when she found teaching jobs hard to come by after graduating from Georgia Southern University in 2009.
Though she enjoyed that job and considers her co-workers at Spine & Sport “family,” Patterson jumped at the offer to be a fifth-grade teacher at Rincon Elementary.
“I loved my opportunities that I got there, but it’s just not my true passion of working with those kids and making a difference,” Patterson said. “At some point, you have to do what you went to school to do and follow your heart.”
The new teachers are not filling new positions, Shearouse said, but rather are replacing teachers who retired or moved to other school districts. The Effingham County School System has trimmed its number of employees in recent years in order to reduce the budget.
“We’re down to 1,500-something employees, where we were up to 1,700 employees at one time,” Shearouse said. “We have a lot less employees but we have more students than we had back then, so we’re having to operate very leanly.”
Effingham County native Elaina Zeigler is one of two new school nurses this year. The wife of former Effingham County Commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler, she became a nurse about a year ago after several years as a stay-at-home mom.
Rather than work in a hospital or doctor’s office, Zeigler chose to be a school nurse so she could spend more time with her children. The Zeiglers have two sons in high school and a daughter in elementary school.
“Otherwise I’m working 12 hours, and I’m not home for supper every night when they’re there,” Zeigler said. “This is a great opportunity for me, as a mom, to be home when they’re home and still have a career.”
Shearouse explained the school district’s expectations to the new employees. He closed by saying he has enjoyed all his jobs in education — as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and superintendent.
“I want you to love every job you have. I want you to love this job,” Shearouse said.
“We hope you have the very best year ever,” added Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff.