Taylor Sauerland fondly recalls the method her fifth-grade teacher at South Effingham Elementary School employed to teach spelling words.
Kristen Richards injected spelling tests with stories, weaving the students’ lessons into the tales.
“The words that were your spelling words, she would have some story for them, and so it just made it really interesting,” Sauerland said. “It stuck with me all that time.”
Sauerland is being reunited with her former teacher, who is now the principal of Sand Hill Elementary. Sauerland will begin her teaching career on Richards’ faculty at SHES as a third-grade teacher.
“It’s interesting because you develop a different level of relationship with them when they come in and they’re all grown up,” Richards said.
Sauerland is one of about 100 new employees in the Effingham County School System this year. The newcomers — about two-thirds of them teachers — participated in an orientation with school officials Wednesday.
Along with sessions covering topics such as payroll, benefits, technology and ethics, the orientation included lunch and door prizes for the new employees.
“Even though we’re considered a large school district in the state of Georgia, we really still want to have that hometown feel,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “We want the new employees to feel welcome. We want them to feel like they’ve found a home in Effingham, so they’ll stay with us for many years to come.”
That made an impression on Tricia Kerr, who will teach special education students at Sand Hill this year. Unlike Sauerland, who attended Effingham County schools from pre-kindergarten through her high school graduation, Kerr is new to the area after teaching in Pennsylvania and Texas.
“Everyone here is so friendly, so welcoming,” she said. “This was fantastic, with all the door prizes and people greeting you. That’s not how it has always been in the other districts where I’ve taught.”
Most of the new teachers are filling positions vacated by teachers who retired or moved to other school districts, according to Shearouse. However, the district also funded more than a dozen new teaching positions in this year’s budget.
The majority of those are elementary school teachers, to help reduce some class sizes, and special education teachers, Shearouse said. Though the budget remains tight, Effingham County received nearly $3 million more in state funding this year than last year.
“We were able to hire some additional folks because of that,” Shearouse said, “and all that’s just better for our students in Effingham County.”
Shearouse told the group gathered for orientation to expect a comment commonly heard from newcomers to the county — they moved to Effingham for its school system.
“That’s great,” he said, “but that puts a big responsibility on all of their shoulders, as well as ours, to make sure that we’re doing the best job that we can do.”
Kerr, a teacher for eight years, moved to Savannah in May when her husband was assigned to Hunter Army Airfield. She said she received a job offer in Bryan County and phone calls for interviews in Chatham County, but was drawn to the available position at Sand Hill Elementary.
“I just really liked that hometown feel,” she said. “I have to drive from Savannah to there, and it’s just so pretty.”
Sauerland, on the other hand, already had an appreciation of the area after growing up in Effingham. Her mother Jessica Sauerland also is a teacher, at Blandford Elementary.
“I’m very excited but very nervous,” she said about her first teaching job.
The younger Sauerland student-taught at Marlow Elementary and served as a parapro for half a year at Blandford Elementary after earning her degree in early childhood education from Armstrong Atlantic State University in December. She will teach math, science and social studies at Sand Hill, so she likely won’t utilize her former fifth-grade teacher’s spelling test technique any time soon.
“But maybe one day,” she said.
Ring the bell
See Tuesday’s Herald for our annual back-to-school edition, complete with school supply lists and the upcoming academic year calendar.