Phyllis Means doesn't remember when she became the Columbia County school system's director of elementary student learning.
But she knows it will end Monday when she retires from her 40-year career in education.
With the exception of the five years she spent teaching science at Curtis Baptist School in Augusta from 1970-75, Means spent all of her career in Columbia County.
Lauren Williams, the associate superintendent of student learning, lauded Means' contribution to Columbia County education.
"Phyllis Means has defined and refined the elementary school program in Columbia County over the past 40 years," Williams wrote in an e-mail. "Her work with so many teachers, administrators and parents through the years has impacted tens of thousands of students.
"Her expertise and love of curriculum and instruction will be sorely missed."
Means launched her career teaching sixth- and seventh-grade math, science and social studies at Bel Air Elementary School. She also served as the Title I lead reading teacher at Bel Air from 1975 to 1980 before becoming the systemwide reading coordinator in 1980.
"My job has really morphed into what it has become today," Means said.
She said she has seen many changes during her four decades in education. When she joined the central office in 1980, she said, school system administrators were trying to determine "what we were going to do with art."
The decision, she said, was to expand art, music and physical education instruction.
"We've had strong teachers in the fine arts, and I would say we have certainly progressed," Means said. "We've had strong teachers and community support. That's really helpful."
She also said assistant principals and school counselors have been added to elementary school staffs in the last 10 years. In addition, she said, new technology has changed the way teachers do their jobs.
Administrators can keep in touch with classroom teachers during the school day by e-mail, Means said, and new technology has enabled school system personnel to join conferences with state Department of Education officials without having to travel to Atlanta.
Education also has changed with the progression toward implementing curriculum standards and assessments, she said.
Another change, which she said remains the school system's biggest challenge, is the phenomenal growth in the student population and the diversity that the increased enrollment brings.
"We have children who are very gifted as well as those who struggle, and it has been a challenge to meet all the needs," Means said.
She said she missed working in a school setting after joining the central office, but she kept in touch with the classroom by talking to teachers and parents.
"If I had not received that reading coordinator job, I would probably still be in the elementary school job and be perfectly happy," Means said.
Michele Sherman, the Greenbrier Elementary School principal, is taking Means' place.
Means plans to spend her retirement traveling, gardening and becoming more involved in church and other community activities.
"I have really enjoyed working with schools, really enjoyed my career," she said. "And it really doesn't seem like 40 years."
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