“Economic status as a child, does not decide who you will become as an adult.”
Barbara Pettiford served 33 years as an educator before retiring from Georgia’s school system. In Georgia, she taught in the classroom for 15 years but finished up the last 18 of her years there in leadership roles. In 2013, she decided to leave retirement behind, and brought her experience as an administrator to Madison County Central School, putting it to work as a third-fifth grade Assistant Principal. This school year, Pettiford has found yet another new school home in Madison County, as Greenville Elementary School’s principal.
In 2010, when Pettiford made the decision to rekindle her school career, Madison County was one of the first places on her list of possibilities. She shared a story of going to church in Madison County with her grandparents, Coley and Lizzie Davis, when she was around 10 years old. She doesn’t remember the location of the church, but she does remember the pastor, Reverend Frazier, along with the quaintness of the town and its moss-covered trees. After making the decision to come to Madison, it took Pettiford three years to get here, but she couldn’t be happier.
Pettiford was raised, along with her ten brothers and sisters, by parents Leroy and Florence Miles, whom she says, “raised them to work hard.” Her father, following in his own father’s footsteps, was a farmer with a third grade education, and her mother, whom Pettiford described as smart, very organized and one who ran their house like a leader, had a dream of becoming a teacher, but was only able to go as far as eighth grade before having to quit school to help take care of her brothers and sisters. Her mother was able to have her dream lived out through her children, said Pettiford, because the love of education was passed down, creating a family full of educators, six with PhDs and four with Masters or Specialists degrees.
One of the lessons from her childhood Pettiford took with her, that shapes her view of students in the classroom today, is that “economic status as a child, does not decide who you will become as an adult.” One of the first things she did when arriving at Greenville, was to change the environment and make it conducive to learning. She feels this allows kids to feel good about where they are and once they have that sense of pride, it will encourage them to care more about what they’re doing. Another initiative of Pettiford’s is to create a strong bond with school and community and school and parents. She feels strongly that “Greenville is not my school, it is our school.” She likes to see teachers and parents talking too and said that’s as it should be. “We’re all on the same team, we’re working towards one goal. I want to see these relationships, I need my parent’s help.”
One of the things last year’s principal Valencia Barnes accomplished before leaving Greenville was acquiring an Annenberg Grant for the school that integrates fine arts into the curriculum, which Pettiford says she is grateful to have. “Ms. Barnes didn’t get to live the dream, I’m living the dream for her.” The grant has allowed the school to purchase Google Chrome notebooks for students, and teachers are now integrating music, role-playing and drama into their classroom curriculum, making learning for their students fun. Pettiford says children tend to learn content faster when it is paired with art, as it unlocks areas in the brain, allowing information into long-term memory more efficiently.
Pettiford, with the help of staff, parents and volunteers, have more ideas and plans for Greenville Elementary this school year. There are plans for students to participate in speaking programs that will be partnered with awards, talent shows, academic intramurals, question and answer relay games and after-school programs for students needing extra instruction. As far as Pettiford’s next retirement date, it doesn’t seem like it will be anytime soon.