NORTH AUGUSTA — When the principal’s position at Our Lady of Peace School in North Augusta became vacant, Karen Wilcox asked her pastor if she could be considered for the job.
Father Alexander “Sandy” McDonald recognized this long-time parishioner had the credentials and enthusiasm to lead the very school she attended as a child.
“I am an alumna of Our Lady of Peace School, and I have been a member at the parish my whole life,” said Wilcox.
Her fondest memories of Our Lady of Peace are displayed in the school, including pictures of her first Communion and confirmation.
After 24 years working as an educator in the public school system, she wanted to bring her knowledge of curricula, grants, special educational aids and state competitions back home to Our Lady of Peace.
She also wanted her own children to be in a more structured and a more spiritual environment than what the local public school could provide. Her drive for continual excellence comes not only from being a principal, but from being a concerned parent as well.
On the academic front, Wilcox is making sure her elementary students are prepared for the challenge of high school and beyond. Many of the students go to public high school, so she is constantly evaluating the state requirements so the transition will be smooth.
One of the big changes for the 2003-2004 academic year was the addition of K-4 students. The younger children can now come into kindergarten better prepared because of the fluidity of the curriculum.
The students have seized opportunities for the school to demonstrate success. Recently a team of students took second place in the Southeastern Regional Future City Competition held at the University of South Carolina at Aiken.
In the event, which was open to all public and private schools in the region, the children showed their creativity. They designed cities with SimCity software and built scaled models of their cities.
In preparation for the contest, students voluntarily met once a week for several weeks with an engineer.
At the end of February, another group of students will compete in the Readers Digest Word Power Challenge in Conway. They have already made it through the initial trials. This particular competition, with its emphasis on vocabulary integrated well with this year’s curricular focus of writing, and the connection between reading and writing.
Although students’ academic achievements are a source of pride for the school, Wilcox is most impressed with the family involvement. Parents have done everything from installing computers and organizing a fund-raiser, to serving lunch and helping with office work.
“The volunteer base is phenomenal, and our school program would not be as enriched without the strong parental support,” she said.
Taking advantage of an opportunity to learn about another culture, Our Lady of Peace School is involved in a type of foreign exchange program. The school is hosting six students and a teacher from Panama for one month. Wilcox has one of the exchange students living at her home. During the summer several of her students, along with parent chaperones, spent time at the Catholic school in Panama.
Father McDonald is pleased with the school and its principal who has served as an ambassador to the larger community.
“Our biggest challenge is to upgrade our facility and help other families realize the value of our school and trust their children to what it has to offer, a real solid education, spiritually and academically,” said Father McDonald.