Dr. Betty Peebles spent the last day of classes doing what she normally does, working on the schedules for the next school year.
The only difference is that it was the last time she had to figure out those complex schedules.
Peebles, who has been assistant principal at Evans High for 15 years, is retiring after 37 years serving the Columbia County School System. All of those years were spent in the halls of Evans High.
“I cannot imagine not getting up at 5:30 in the morning and coming to Evans High School,” she said on the last day of classes. “It’ll be different.”
Peebles is the school registrar and also oversees standardized testing, evaluations for some of the faculty and staff as well as the scheduling.
“It’s going to be tough. She leaves a big hole,” said Principal Don Brigdon, who has worked with Peebles for 18 years. “For a couple of years, I begged her to stay. This time I felt guilty. She knows we’re going to miss her. Gosh, I’d love for her to stay. She deserves it. She’s worked hard.”
As the registrar, Peebles tackles the task of creating the schedules as a challenge, a game.
“I’m a puzzle-maker,” Peebles said. “This is a huge puzzle. Scheduling 1,900 kids with 100 teachers and 876 classrooms and seven periods. It’s fun. It’s a puzzle.”
Peebles, straight out of college, moved from Virginia to teach health at the school when students were attending double sessions at the former Evans Middle School on Washington Road at Belair Road. She ended up teaching a variety of classes from health and biology to anatomy, her favorite.
“That was the most fun,” Peebles said, recalling the fun, interest and unique odor that went along with leading her students in pig dissections each year.
She moved to the newly built school in 1980 and became chair of the Science Department in 1988.
Peebles said she still misses the classroom and always thought she would end her career back in the classroom.
After getting a leadership degree and model teaching for her colleagues, Peebles decided she’d pursue one of the assistant principal positions she’d been eyeing as administrators were leaving in 1999.
“I love teaching,” Peebles said, “but I thought, ‘You know, I can help teachers be better teachers. And that’s not really what I do. ... It’s become a back-hall, behind the scenes, let’s keep things running, type job.”
But she’s happy behind the scenes and is valued there.
Brigdon said Peebles is an important cog in the Evans High machine. She’s a great sounding board, Brigdon said, adding that he values her opinion and she’s great at figuring out what works.
“I totally trusted her to do what needed to be done (with testing and compliance),” Brigdon said. “She’s a problem solver. The best.”
Peebles said she’s been aware of other opportunities in her 37-year career, but just wasn’t interested in any that took her away from Evans.
It’s not the building that makes the school so special, but the students, the faculty, the staff and the diversity, Peebles said.
“The diversity here at Evans, we’re very much the melting pot,” Peebles said. “We’ve got it all. ... It just seems that everybody fits in here. We’re very proud of that. That’s Evans.”
Peebles’ time at Evans didn’t end with the last day of classes and it won’t end with the last day for teachers or administrators. She’ll work until late June finishing schedules and tying up loose ends. She’s been gradually taking things from her office, plants and other items, leading up to the final clear out. Packing up her office doesn’t bother Peebles as much as saying goodbye to her colleagues.
“Next Thursday,” Peebles said, “our last day for our teachers. I’ve got to get through that.”
The science teachers have already honored her with a dead preserved rat that is actually a trophy given annually to the teacher who makes the biggest blooper of the year. Peebles science department colleagues gave it to her for “ratting them out” and retiring.
Peebles said she has thought about post-retirement opportunities, but hasn’t really decided what, if anything, she’ll do after her last day in late June. She might volunteer at her son’s high school in North Augusta, where he’ll be a senior. She’s considered teaching Georgia Regents University student teachers and even volunteer opportunities at schools and charities like Meals on Wheels.
Substitute teaching is not even being considered, she joked.
Down time is not something Peebles is used to, but she’ll adjust to retirement.
“They tell me it’s going to take several months to get off the roller coaster, to decompress” Peebles said. “I’m going to be a little bit lost at first. I’m going to have to fight that feeling.”
Peebles, who said she bleeds black and gold, said it’s the institution of Evans High made up of everyone who works and attends there, that she’ll miss being a part of. That’s why she’s never considered leaving for another position.
“Why would I leave the best?” Peebles said. “(Former Principal) Ray Hicks used to say we are the battleship of the fleet. I just thought we’ve got the best school.
“It’s the people, the students. It’s a special place.”