Principal realized she couldn’t leave S.P. Morton

Published 2:38 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

FRANKLIN—After word got out about her resignation in mid-July, Dr. Debbie Harris Rollins found out just how valued she is at S.P. Morton Elementary School in Franklin. On Tuesday, the principal sat down with The Tidewater News to talk about her relationship with the school she loves.

Dr. Debbie Harris Rollins

Dr. Debbie Harris Rollins

Rollins said she would not share her reasons for the resignation, except to say that no one demanded or even remotely suggested she leave. The principal said she gave the matter a lot of thought and prayer before informing the staff and also submitting a letter to Franklin Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle on July 16.

“I believed it was the right decision at the time,” Rollins said, adding she already signed her contract at the end of June. The retired Bertie County, N.C., superintendent had started her position last summer.

A few days later, though, the principal rescinded her resignation.

One factor for her staying was the realization there would not be a smooth transition for the staff if she left at month’s end. As a leader, Rollins said, she couldn’t do that to the school personnel.

Staff, parents and community leaders asked her to reconsider and return, she said. Further, there was “a large volume of emails and texts” asking Rollins not to leave. Belle said she was quite pleased about the reversal.

“S.P. Morton is a good school. I’ve grown in a short time to love it,” Rollins said. ‘You just have to be there.”

She also knows the importance of the students starting their day off on the right track. For example, when school’s in session, Rollins is in the lobby each day to greet the children. They’ll line up just to talk to the principal.

“It’s important to them. They just want to tell you something, or touch you or hug you,” said Rollins.

Further, she’s aware that parents want to know when their child is at school, he or she will be safe, looked after and come home fine, if not better.

Recommitted to S.P. Morton, the principal has a lot to which she can look forward.

“This year, as last, the focus will be on academics,” Rollins said, adding she wants to “preserve the integrity of instruction,” which means getting the students to school on time and staying the whole day.

“We have too many tardy students and when they check in at the office, that causes congestion. We also have too many students checked out early out of school, which causes more congestion,” she said.

To help manage this, a receptionist/secretary was hired, and will be stationed in the lobby.

“I had a long list of requests and they, the school board, were gracious to me,” Rollins said about this and other hires.

New this year will be a dean of students, Terrance Saxby, formerly of Hertford County, N.C. One of his roles will be handling discipline.

“S.P. Morton doesn’t have significant disciplinary concerns, but there are a lot of small things,” Rollins said. “The focus is on instruction, and you can get bogged down with disciplinary matters.”

A full-time in-house math specialist has been hired in addition to a second reading specialist. Further, two special education teachers have signed on, so now there’s one for each grade level, K through fifth grade.

A native of Pitt County, N.C., she’s the only person in her family to have gone into the education field. Rollins is the daughter of Emma Harris of Farmville, N.C., and the late James Harris. She has a sister, Jennifer, who is older.

When Rollins came to S.P. Morton in 2012, she already had retired after 30-plus years in education in North Carolina. In addition to having taught special education and art for 13 years, Rollins has served as an assistant principal, principal, Title I director, as well as assistant superintendent and superintendent in small school districts.