To say the past year has been challenging for Evans High School and its principal, Don Brigdon, would be an understatement.
Brigdon had to weather withering criticism after firing controversial football coach Lee Chomskis, and then saw his school put on the federal No Child Left Behind needs improvement list after the spring 2003 flu epidemic hit during testing and pulled down attendance.
The cheers that erupted in the Evans front office Wednesday morning, then, were not just excitement, but relief: Evans has been named a Georgia School of Excellence for 2004, giving the stellar school an emotional lift along with a welcome validation of its efforts.
The sweet thing about it is the teachers and students, weve all been working hard to basically do what were supposed to do, Brigdon says, and for this to come up, its like "Wow, what weve been doing and fussing about having to do really makes a difference.
This award means Columbia Countys biggest school has bagged one of the states highest honors; Evans High is one of only three high schools in Georgia named a School of Excellence for 2004, in a state with more than 300 high schools. Amazing!
The award comes not just from the work of teachers and the achievement of students in the classroom, but from tough, painstaking effort of the team that put together a School Improvement Plan submitted for state Department of Education review. Brigdon especially credits Assistant Principal for Instruction Betty Peoples and the co-chairs of the School Improvement Committee, Debbie Daniel and Laurie Hooven, and committee member Mary Stout, as the spears who drove the plans development.
Evans High School has a long, proud history in Columbia County, and overcoming adversity is nothing new. Nearly a half-century ago, the surrounding community helped Evans rise from the ashes of a pre-dawn fire Oct. 11, 1955. Using donated space in nearby churches and homes, the schools pupils were back in makeshift classrooms just three days after the blaze destroyed their school.
The school family showed grit then, and continued to do so 20 years later when overcrowding forced the school into unprecedented - and these days, unimaginable - double sessions at its then-Washington Road site. The Cox Road campus, opened 24 years ago, is Evans Highs third physical home, but its heart has always been the entire community.
And it is the staff, faculty, administrators, volunteers and students in the home of the Knights, champions in the classroom and on the field of competition, who continue to display perseverance by capturing such a prestigious honor. This time its the community that owes Evans thanks, and a hearty congratulations.
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