06/14/10 — Goodbye, Mrs. Faison

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Goodbye, Mrs. Faison

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 14, 2010 1:46 PM

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Troy Herring

Tommy's Road Elementary School principal Patsy Faison hugs student Aubrey Wooley as other students seek to get a hug out of the principal they love so much before the last day of school. Mrs. Faison, who has been the only person to have the title as principal at Tommy's Road Elementary, is retiring this year.

When Tommy's Road Elementary School first opened in the fall of 2000, its initial role was to alleviate overcrowding at the northern and eastern schools.

June 30 will mark more than the milestone first decade, as its principal from the inception, Patsy Faison, enters retirement.

"She has made this school what it is," says Crystal Cahill, N.C. WISE data manager and secretary, who has worked with Mrs. Faison at the school since that first day.

Mrs. Cahill's voice cracked with emotion as she contemplated what month's end will be like, how it will feel when the next school year rolls around and Mrs. Faison is not there to usher it in.

"My heart is now full," Mrs. Cahill said. "It's going to be hard because she has been more like a mother and best friend. She's the kind of person that when you leave your children here, you're OK. You can drop them off at the front door because you know you're going to be OK, they're going to be guarded."

It's a climate Mrs. Faison said she strove to create from the beginning.

"I'm not afraid to take a challenge. I'm not a person of confusion. I'm a person of order," she said. "My attitude and my belief of education is one that I lace with an inner spirit and doing what's right. And then, being in a school where my two children could come and get the best education they could possibly get."

The community school that it is today did not evolve automatically, however.

In the early days, the principal said she set out to put everyone at ease and to enlist their support in working together.

"We really worked hard at building a unit because we had teachers coming from Northeast, Northwest, Dillard and Eastern Wayne (schools)," she said. "There were at least five different groups of teachers that came to this school and we had to make a new beginning, a new school. I would hear things like, 'We did it this way at Northeast,' 'We did it this way at Northwest.'

"We worked hard to build harmony and cohesiveness at this school. And when we did, we celebrated because we had our own identity that Tommy's Road was Tommy's Road Elementary."

Mrs. Faison is also a minister, serving Millers Chapel AMEZ Church since 2009. But long before being called to serve there, she never struggled to find her calling -- it's in the eyes and ears of every boy and girl who has crossed her path, and each teacher and staff member who works with her.

Her mission has always been to nurture the whole child, seeing every place as a classroom, every child as a promise, she said.

"I took the family approach to this school because it takes a whole village to raise a child," she said. "I'm coming to work to serve my people. ... I need to offer them the very best service (and) have a safe and orderly environment."

The approach stemmed from her own formative years.

"I bring to the table the things that I believe in, in such a way that I can impart them to the children," she said. "These children are looking up to me and I'm their No. 1 best friend.

"We are family, so I am going to take good care of my children and I am going to take good care of my teachers and my staff."

Mrs. Faison's career began in Detroit Public Schools, where she taught for 12 years after graduating from Winston-Salem State University. In 1978, she and husband, Donald, now a retired assistant superintendent for WCPS, returned to Wayne County.

Her assignments through the years have included teaching at Eastern Wayne Elementary School, assistant principal and then principal at Meadow Lane Elementary, then principal at North Drive Elementary from 1995 to 2000.

It has been a successful run at Tommy's Road.

In 2005, her school was one of two in the state recognized with closing the achievement gap between black and white students. She was invited by the district to help disseminate the message locally. For the past two years, she was a moderator at the district's Kitchen Table Conversations, based on a model introduced by Durham Public Schools to allow parents and community members to weigh in on issues of concern.

But her biggest success will always be reflected in the accomplishments of those under her care -- when students return to share their own successes in school and careers. That, and the ability to have good strong relationships with the parents and staff, she adds.

She has spent surprisingly little time in the principal's office herself, instead choosing to walk the halls or wherever children are gathered -- in the classroom, in the cafeteria or on the playground.

Her popularity is evident as boys and girls readily approach, offering a hug or engaging in conversation.

Danna Brown, whose son, Carson, is a first-grader, had high praise for the retiring principal.

"This is our first year here, and I actually have learned a great deal from her," she said. "She greets these children with a smile and an encouraging word -- that may be the first smile that these children see. She's wonderful, so encouraging. Carson was very sad when he heard she was retiring."

That sentiment is shared by Mrs. Faison.

At the same time, she has a peace about the track record she has amassed, and is ready for the next chapter of her life.

"I have given what I felt I needed to do and so I just feel like I need to move on to a new path in my life, spiritually, as a pastor," she said. "I knew that it was time for me to go. I prayed and made sure that I was making the right decision."

In addition to devoting her time to full-time ministry, she plans to travel and spend time with her husband, who has been retired for 15 years.

"He was one of the strongholds in my life, affording me the opportunities to do things in my life educationally," she said. "It's a place of peace and harmony in my life that he caused me to be able to do things that I have done for others. ...

"I just cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed my work. I enjoyed every bit of it for 44 years because I was determined to enjoy it and I knew that if I could make a difference in some children's lives, it makes a better world, a better place for children to live in."