FLORENCE – Briggs Elementary School students stood in two groups outside the school Wednesday morning. Cheers erupted as Principal Tara Newton pulled into a parking space in front of the school.
The cheering grew louder as she opened her car door and stepped out of the car.
At first, she didn’t grasp what was happening.
Realization struck as Briggs Elementary School administrators, staff and teachers congratulated her as she walked to the school’s front door.
Newton, dressed in a blue blouse and black slacks, got confirmation from a banner stretched above the school’s entrance and Florence 1 Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley.
Newton is the Florence 1 School District’s 2022-23 Principal of the Year.
“We are very, very pleased, if you didn’t realize yet, that you are the 2022 Florence 1 Principal of the Year,” O’Malley said, and more cheers erupted. “We are so proud of what you have done here. We appreciate you, your family and the culture you have built at Briggs.”
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Newton now will vie for the South Carolina Principal of the Year through the South Carolina School Administrators Principal of the Year program. She also received a ceremonial $10,000 check from O’Malley. The money will be used to benefit Briggs Elementary School and the students.
“I was truly shocked. Briggs is my baby,” Newton said after receiving the Principal of the Year trophy. I do have two babies that I am attempting to raise. Briggs is my pride and joy. I love this school. I love you guys. I love the neighborhood. It’s precious to me.”
Newton has served as Briggs Elementary School principal since 2014. She never expected to be named Principal of the Year because Florence 1 Schools has so many excellent principals, she said, adding the school’s assistant administrators, teachers and staff are vital to the school’s success.
Newton was nominated for the award by a group of her peers, including fellow principals and school administrators in the district.
Briggs Elementary School is the only school in the Florence 1 School District participating in Leader In Me whole school improvement process. This evidence-based approach empowers students with the leadership and life skills they will need to thrive in the 21st century.
Briggs Elementary has been recognized as a Leader in Me Certified Lighthouse School.
Franklin Covey Education President Sean Covey said, “Schools that achieve this Lighthouse Certification are great examples of a strong leadership model, and of what it means to be a Leader in Me school. This school has experienced incredible results by implementing the principles and practices related to Leader in Me. And we are so pleased and honored to be their partner and to celebrate the success they are experiencing.”
Last year, Briggs Elementary also was national recognized as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Lighthouse school.
The award recognized the school for its courage, collaborative spirit and commitment to excellence in ensuring all students received the education they deserved while dealing with the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Briggs Farm-To-School program has been featured on South Carolina Educational Television, which showed how school collaborates with other South Carolina agencies to connect the school and students with local agriculture.
“Florence 1 School Board of Trustees Chairman Porter Stewart said, “I am proud of the leadership that Mrs. Newton has brought to Briggs Elementary. It is evident from the accomplishments there that the administrators, teachers and staff are focused on student achievement in very effective programs. The school is also welcoming to families and the community. These are the fruit of dynamic leadership that starts with the principal.”
After the announcement, Newton told the Morning News it is amazing and a little shocking to be Principal of the Year.
“We have so many deserving principals. I am honored to be chosen as Principal of the Year by my peers and our district office staff. I am excited. I’m just trying to get over the shock of that,” Newton said.
Newton has been an educator for 23 years, an administrator for 16 years and principal for nearly nine years.
“I’m just super excited. It’s a great honor. It’s a great day,” Newton said.
After the interview, she walked across the sidewalk to the older grade students, ran forward and gave them low fives as they headed into the building and their classrooms.