RUMBLE: You are the first female to be lead principal at Tuscola High School. Is this meaningful to you?
Heather Blackmon: It is certainly an honor and very meaningful for me. Haywood County Schools has a rich tradition of great leaders, both male and female. I am just so proud to join this group, and being the “first” in any position is always a great opportunity for growth and change.
RUMBLE: This is the first time Haywood County Schools has opted to bring someone in from out of the HCS system to a principal position. Why do you think HCS chose you, now, for the position?
Blackmon: I was not aware that this was the case and would have to do some research on that one. I have an immense respect for districts that grow their leaders and promote from within, so to be the exception to this tradition is certainly an honor. I hope that my experience in high school teaching and administration in other districts will allow me to offer potential alternate resources for teachers and students. I hope to bring potential solutions to problems and concerns that exist across the state, and utilize the connections I have made in other districts to expand possibilities for students at Tuscola. I can assure you, it is the strong staff at Tuscola that is already making me a better leader. I continue to learn more every day from the folks who work here.
RUMBLE: Why were you interested in coming here, to Haywood County? How did your career aspirations inform the move?
Blackmon: Certainly my family history was a driving factor. Having Tuscola’s stadium named for your grandfather, a grandmother who served as the librarian at Tuscola for the first several years after it was built, parents who were childhood sweethearts and graduated from WTHS (Waynesville Township High School), and spending a great deal of my young childhood here made Haywood County “home.” I also have a large extended family all around the county, so being able to reconnect with them has been fantastic. I was in a place in my career and personal life that allowed for relocation and transition. The opening at Tuscola came at the perfect time. To be honest, I was happy just to be asked to interview for the position. To have the opportunity to potentially spend the rest of my career here has allowed me to truly “live the dream” that everyone deserves, but few get the chance. I intend to enjoy every day of it.
RUMBLE: Leading a school during a pandemic seems like a daunting task. You have not only this to deal with, but it is also your first year at Tuscola. How are you coping with all of that? What are some of your strategies for being successful in these endeavors?
Blackmon: While I cannot wait to get students back in the building for face to face instruction and hate that our world is forced to live in a sense of fear during this pandemic; the safety of students and staff has to always be first and foremost in a principal’s mind. I have never asked as many questions and had no perfect answers about the best way for us to operate during this time. The best possible solution right now is to follow the path of safety, and be as creative as we can about the remote delivery of instruction. We also have to realize that situations are different for every student and be able to demonstrate grace and understanding when looking at each situation. This staff has been phenomenal in their work over the last two weeks both in preparation for and execution of virtual instruction. I am so humbled by their willingness to build the ship while we are sailing it, and energized by their positive approach to this difficult situation.
RUMBLE: A lot of people are very worried about schools being open again. Countless schools that have reopened for in person instruction have already had breakouts, and/or had to shut down. Are you worried about a similar situation at Tuscola? What are you and your staff doing to ensure something like this doesn’t happen?
Blackmon: We are operating under strict safety guidelines in terms of wearing masks, taking temperature checks of all employees and visitors to the building, and creating work areas that allow for social distancing. I am always worried about breakouts, and I am certainly cognizant that we are in no way immune. With the help of the district, we are planning for the long term, but acting in the short term in order to ensure we maintain conditions that are safe for all of us.
RUMBLE: In what ways do past positions prepare you for this moment?
Blackmon: My time working in the nonprofit world allowed me to work in a wide variety of schools, providing for students with some of the greatest needs. I saw it as an extension of my role as a public educator but with access to resources that were not always available at the school or district level. I also learned that education IS a priority with most of the folks in our state. Many times, they just want to know HOW they can be of assistance to teachers and students. Being able to connect community members with their schools allowed for a win/win situation every time. It also taught me how to look deeper into communities for support for our schools.
RUMBLE: How has it been personally, to move and adjust to Haywood County?
Blackmon: I am happier than I have been in a long time both personally and professionally. It is interesting to note all of the growth and changes that have taken place over time. It is great when I find that things are right where they used to be, but it is also fun to try new places and discover all of the treasures that Haywood County has to offer. The only difficulty is travelling to back to Greensboro to ensure that my parents continue to get the best care possible. We are working on a plan to bring them back “home” soon as well.
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