After spending 25 years working for the Lincoln County Schools District, Dr. Rhonda Hager brought in the new decade as a member of the retired community. The former assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Hager started her teaching career with Newton-Conover City Schools. She came to Lincoln County Schools in 1994 and taught at Iron Station Elementary School.
“I received a principal fellow scholarship and went into administration,” she said. “I did my internship at Lincolnton High School then worked as an assistant principal at Lincolnton Middle School.”
At 30 years of age, Hager returned to Lincolnton High School to serve as its principal and then transferred to principal of Iron Station Elementary.
“I was then asked to open North Lincoln Middle School,” she said. “From there I worked on my doctorate and then went into administration at the county office. I was the middle school director for several years and then became assistant superintendent.”
Hager served as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for six years. Because she’s worked for the district for so many years, Hager has seen a lot of change. Technology has been one of the major revolutions.
“When I went into education, we had an Apple IIE occasionally sitting around here that had the green screen and there was no such thing as the Internet,” she said. “The transformation of technology has been huge as well as how it’s been used as a teaching tool and helping to make connections between classrooms all over the world.”
Of course, technology has its downfalls. Everything that’s good has its con side of it, Hager said, but she believes the access to content has revolutionized the classroom. Information is now available at students’ and teachers’ fingertips opposed to having to look for it.
Reading is one of the many proficiencies that Hager promoted during her time as assistant superintendent.
“One of our big initiatives was a program called ‘Keys to Literacy,’ which involves reading comprehension,” she said. “We worked on training teachers from fourth grade all the way to 12th grade and on teacher/student routines that will help to develop students’ comprehension. That was something that I worked on significantly – getting additional tools for teachers to help with that program. If the students can understand and comprehend what they’re reading, they’ll learn better.”
Adding more online classes that Lincoln County Schools teachers are teaching was another one of Hager’s projects during her tenure. In the arts, she worked with other staff to add sixth grade band.
“We always started band in seventh grade, but our band directors were very adamant that if we’re going to compete against other programs that start in the sixth grade, we need to look at that too,” she said.
There are always particulars that an administrator wishes that he or she could have accomplished during their time in that position. Procuring a steady stream of funding for technology is one that Hager regrets not having been able to put in place before her retirement.
“We’ve put technology in place with lots of school fundraisers,” she said. “We do have the bond money now and we have some technology allocated. A steady stream of technology money so that we know that we can replace devices as they need to be replaced to promote instruction technology use would be ideal. With all the state cutbacks, it’s been tough. We used to get big chunks of textbook money and that’s been cut over the years so funding for materials and teacher monies is huge.”
Lincoln County Schools has made great strides in student achievement going from the 30s in rank to 11th in student achievement in the state. Now, Hager said, it’s Dr. Heath Belcher’s job to keep up that progression in student achievement. One of the challenges will be mental health.
“Unfortunately, the mental health system doesn’t have all of the resources that they need to help children and families,” she said. “I feel like mental health is the number one challenge education is facing right now.”
Hager said that at this time, she’s looking for God’s will to know what she’s going to do next.
“The one thing I’m trying to be is more unscheduled with my time and more available to my family and other opportunities that come up,” she said. “I’m continuing my work with Delta Kappa Gamma (a group of women educators in Lincoln County working to make education better). I’m currently the president of that organization. Education is not something I’ll turn off after 30 years. I’ll find other ways that I can make a difference.”