Retirement from BCS is bittersweet for Padgett

Published 3:18 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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“If it’s what you want to do, it’s the best job,”  Ashley Padgett said about working in education. 

Padgett, says this with confidence, as she reflects on more than 30 years of employment with Beaufort County Schools. On Sept. 24, she announced on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that she would be retiring from Beaufort County Schools, effective Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. 

Padgett said retirement is a bittersweet change. She’s sad because she loved her job, but is confident that the work she did is being placed into good hands. 

“I know everything is in good shape…I’ve just got to figure out what the next opportunity is,” Padgett said. 

Padgett worked for Beaufort County Schools for over 30 years transitioning throughout the years from teacher to student services director to leader of Project Aware. 

Her career started the spring semester of 1993 at Washington High School where she taught literature for one semester while a teacher was on maternity leave. That fall, the teacher returned, but there wasn’t an opening at the school. Padgett was asked to teach at P.S. Jones Middle School where she stayed for 13 years. 

“Once I got to P.S. Jones, I fell in love with middle school,” Padgett said. There, she taught sixth grade Social Studies and English as well as Language Arts at different grade levels. 

Talking about her middle school students, Padgett said she loved their humor and unique perspectives on different pieces of literature. 

“The gift of the kids is what you get…They see things from all angles. Giving them that freedom to think, and to talk…We did lots of writing and I loved reading their writing as they worked through things. There were always surprises. It was never boring,” Padgett said. 

A love for teaching middle school students has been passed down for three generations in Padgett’s family. 

Padgett is a third generation teacher whose family members also taught in Beaufort County. Her paternal grandmother taught middle school English classes, her mother taught middle school Mathematics and her father taught at Beaufort County Community College and taught Business at the former Chocowinity High School. Padgett is a 1988 graduate of Washington High School. 

As she taught middle school students, Padgett herself was learning from veteran middle school teachers about best practices for her classroom. They taught her to find students’ strengths, point those out to them and give students individualized attention so they feel special. 

Now the veteran teacher and curriculum specialist, Padgett said it’s a “bonus gift” to hear when students remember her well. Even if a teacher doesn’t hear it on a daily basis, Padgett says they should believe they are making differences in their students’ lives. “You hope you’ve made a difference,” she said. 

Living in Beaufort County means she frequently runs into former students who have either become teachers themselves or they work at the bank or even entertained by them (Chuck Phillips is a former student of Padgett’s). She said it’s “joyful” to know her students have done well since being in her classroom. “ [As a teacher] your hope, your prayer and your planning is that day [in the classroom], that moment that you are helping to make them better long term.” 

After leaving the classroom, Padgett continued to search for ways to improve students’ lives. She worked as a middle school curriculum specialist, student services director, family and community engagement and leader of Project AWARE. The objective of both student services and Project AWARE is to provide students with necessary tools to help them succeed which includes their basic needs like clothing, food and mental health resources. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, “North Carolina’s Project AWARE/ACTIVATE is a collaboration between the NC Department of Public Instruction and the NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child and Family Well-Being to develop a comprehensive plan of activities, services, and strategies for connecting youth and families to mental health services in six pilot school districts. Project AWARE funding is provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. North Carolina was selected as a 2018-2023 and a 2021-2026 grantee for Project AWARE.” Beaufort County Schools was one of six school districts selected for the grant. 

Meeting these basic and mental health needs helps students be more prepared and focused in the classroom. The more that a school system can remove outside stressors for students like food insecurity, having well-fitted clothes, having a bed to sleep in and mental health resources, the better students will perform, Padgett explained. 

“It’s really important to take care of all those basic needs – physical, mental – before they can do that academic piece,” Padgett said. 

Padgett said her advice for new teachers is to take care of themselves and their students by extending grace. 

“If there is a lesson or a day that doesn’t turn out the way you want to be – that’s okay. Think about it, reflect on it, go for a walk, do whatever it is you need to do then give yourself the grace to come back…and then your student’s, give them grace…Maybe they have a bad day on Monday, but then you love on them on Tuesday. In turn, those kids are going to give you the same grace if your lesson didn’t really work out as you intended, Padgett said. 

At this time, Padgett is unsure of what her next steps will be, but is hopeful and optimistic that she can always return to the classroom.