ROCK HILL — Ask Principal Susie Hinton what makes St. Anne School special, and she is quick with an answer.
“I would say it’s the most loving, nurturing, caring school,” Hinton says. “I have never been in an environment where I’ve had the kind of parent support we have here, and outstanding teachers who really care.”
Hinton’s commendation means a lot, because the Rock Hill native spent 34 years as a school administrator in Connecticut before retiring. She came out of retirement in 2004 to take over the leadership of St. Anne.
She was sitting in church at St. Anne in Rock Hill when she was approached by a member of the school board, who asked her to take over the helm of the 291-student school. Hinton had returned to Rock Hill to help care for a family member, but she said that God wanted other things for her upon her return.
“The Lord had a plan for me here,” she said.
St. Anne, which serves students in four-year-old kindergarten through eighth grade, has been in existence since 1951. The school was opened that year with kindergarten and first grades only. It moved to a new building in 1953 and during the 1953-54 school year became the first racially integrated school in South Carolina. The school’s present building on Bird Street was completed in 1998.
St. Anne was originally served by nuns from the Pennsylvania-based Sisters of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who stayed until 1992. Since then, the school has had a faculty and staff made up entirely of lay people.
In recent years, St. Anne has been praised by the diocese for its combination of parent involvement and what a 2000 study called the “gospel witness” of the faculty.
Hinton said the school’s mission is to offer students an environment that combines academic challenge with spiritual development.
Each morning the entire school gathers together in the gymnasium for a five-minute community prayer. Eighth graders read Scriptures selected by Hinton, and everyone prays the Our Father and Hail Mary together. Parents often attend the sessions to pray with their children.
Academic life at the school includes all of the standard academics as well as Spanish, music and art. Students participate yearly in the National Spelling Bee and National Geography Bee school and regional competitions, and in 2005 St. Anne won the Governor’s Proclamation Award for achievement in reading.
There is also a very real focus on history and heritage. On Jan. 13, for instance, the entire school participated in a special tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that featured readings and music about his life and work. Students held candles while they recited or performed.
This year the school added a program of after-school enrichment clubs when students requested additional extracurricular activities. The clubs include Spanish, soccer, basketball, art and martial arts classes.