(This is the second story in a Black History Month series featuring profiles of Lincoln County community members.)
Growing up in Cherryville, Denise Patterson always knew what she wanted to do with her life.
â€œIâ€™ve just always had this heartfelt love for children,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t know, Iâ€™ve just always wanted to be a teacher.â€
The 33-year-old has since achieved that goal and then some. After working as a rotating AIG teacher for three years in four of Lincoln Countyâ€™s elementary schools, she became an assistant principal at North Brook Elementary School. After three more years in that position, she became principal.
As a black woman in a predominantly white community, Patterson says race didnâ€™t present itself as an issue.
â€œI never faced any of that,â€ she said. â€œI honestly didnâ€™t. I think the community saw me as another leader.â€
Now, with three and a half years as principal under her belt, Patterson is making another move â€” to Lincoln Countyâ€™s newest school, Noris S. Childers Elementary.
With the new school opening in the western end of the county in the fall, Patterson is now focused on building it from the ground up.
She walks the halls at least once a week, noting how far construction has passed. She is currently working out of the School of Technology hiring staff and planning for the future.
â€œI really miss being with the elementary school students and staff, but Iâ€™m really excited,â€ she said.
Although itâ€™s hard work, Patterson has always excelled.
An honors student in both high school and college, she has gone on to earn two masterâ€™s degrees â€” one in elementary education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and one in administration from Gardner-Webb University.
She credits her family for her success. A positive attitude and healthy work ethic havenâ€™t hurt any either.
â€œI live and breathe school all the time,â€ she said.
And while she loves her job, it can become overwhelming.
â€œThereâ€™s never enough time in the day,â€ Patterson said. â€œThat professional life can be your personal life too.â€
Things will remain busy as work on the school progresses. Sheâ€™s grateful itâ€™s being built â€” as principal at North Brook she experienced the results of overcrowding first hand.
The new school will relieve overcrowding at North Brook, Love Memorial Elementary School and, most notably, Union Elementary School.
And while the principal has plans for earning her doctorate degree, sheâ€™s perfectly happy remaining in Lincoln County.
â€œEveryone knows each other, and I like that intimacy,â€ she said.
by Sarah Grano