Brigman: Works with at-risk youth to ‘hear their story’

Editor’s note: October is National Principals Month. The Pee Dee Post will publish profiles on each of the county’s school principals during the month.
Jamie Greene
Yvonne Gilmer
Ellen Mabe
Joyce McRae
Hal Shuler
Angela Watkins
Dawn Terry
Pam Patterson
Andy Reeder
Julian Carter

By Mallory Brown
Richmond County Schools

From Sunday school to secondary education, Leak Street High School Principal Susan Brigman has always had a desire to teach. The six-year principal said she knew early on that education would play a major role in her life.

It all started when she began teaching Sunday school and children’s church at the age of 12.

Susan Brigman

Susan Brigman

“I enjoyed teaching then,” she said. “All the way through high school I worked with the children’s church program at East Rockingham Church of God of Prophecy. I grew up in that church, and my mom was a big example. She worked in children’s ministries for as long as I can remember and she still does to this day. I always watched her and how she was teaching kids and I developed a passion for that too.”

Brigman said she followed her mother’s example by working to organize Christmas programs, musicals and church plays.

“I was always busy working with kids,” she said. “I did a lot of babysitting to earn money and I think one of the biggest things that helped to get me to where I am now is the work ethic that was instilled in me from my parents.”

Brigman recounted her childhood as a time when her family didn’t have much — but also that they were well cared-for.

“Neither one of my parents were college graduates,” she said. “My dad was the produce manager at Winn Dixie. My mom was a secretary at DeWitt trucking company. We’re really very proud of her because when we all finished school, she went back to school and got her teaching degree. She’s now retired from Mineral Springs.”

Because her mother was always supportive during her college years, Brigman said she was excited to see her return to school and find success as an educator herself.

She also mentioned her fifth grade teacher, Polly Cobb, and her high school English teacher, Janet King, as personal influences.

“I will never forget how Ms. Cobb helped us understand the Challenger space shuttle crash, the loss of a classmate, and a student losing their father all in one year,” she said. “I learned quickly that a teacher wears many hats and I was so impressed with how she comforted us even though she was sad too. Teachers who show compassion make a lasting impact on the lives of students. A student may not remember the content you taught them, but they will always remember how much you cared. Mrs. King was so passionate about writing that I became passionate about it too. She instilled in me the importance of having excellent communication skills. I did not struggle in college because I had such a strong foundation in grammar and composition. I loved diagraming sentences….I know this sounds crazy to many people.”

Growing up in Richmond County, Brigman attended Temple Christian High School before obtaining a two-year degree from Richmond Community College. She began college at Wingate University and transferred to UNC-Pembroke for her bachelor’s degree. Brigman also pursued her master’s degree in school administration and curriculum from UNC-P.

During that time, she said she was constantly working.

“While I was in college I worked at the central office in the public relations department,” Brigman said. “I was the secretary for Dr. Benjamin Jones … I stayed with him until I did my student teaching.”

She also worked with the Exceptional Children’s department as a preschool liaison where she helped prepare students with disabilities for their entrance into school.

While student teaching, Brigman’s supervising teacher went on leave and a teaching opportunity presented itself to her at Sycamore Lane in Scotland County.

“I finished up the year and took the position,” she said, recalling that she’d remain in the classroom for the two years that followed.

Brigman then took a small break after having her first child. When she reentered the workforce, she was employed with the nonprofit Richmond County Partnership for Children as the director for childcare venues.

“Then I decided that I was ready to go back into the classroom,” she said, “and that’s when I started at Leak Street as a teacher under Willie Horsley.”

It was during her time there that she realized what she was meant to do.

“To work with at-risk kids,” she confirmed. “I started making connections with kids and would see tremendous growth in them. I thought, ‘these are children that have stories, and nobody knows what they’re going through.’”

Her passion for such students has shaped her profession even today.

“Students who struggle need to have a good strong relationship with their teacher and have hands-on activities to work with,” she said. “They just want somebody to hear them – to hear their story.”

Along with Horsley, Brigman credits former Leak Street Principal Daryl Mason for encouraging her to return to school.

“(Horsley) always said ‘you really have a passion for working with these students — just think about how many more kids you can reach if you’re the administrator of the building,’” she said. “The more I worked, the more I witnessed kids in classrooms, I would constantly try to give advice to other teachers to help those students.”

Soon after, Brigman was given the opportunity to work at Richmond Senior High as an assistant principal. Only a year passed before former superintendent Dr. George Norris would approach her with a new journey — the opening of Richmond County Transitional School.

“Of course that was right up my alley,” she said. “(Norris) said he felt like I was the best fit for the job and I have him to thank for seeing that potential in me.”

Brigman admitted that she was nervous about opening a brand new school.

“Developing new policies and procedures from the ground is not an easy task, but it was something I was passionate about,” she said.

Brigman remained in her position at the Transitional School until last year, when she was given the opportunity to serve as the principal of her former home — Leak Street High.

One of her goals at Leak Street, she said, was to help shed a more positive light on the school.

“I want these students to be examples in this community,” Brigman said. “If we don’t do anything else, if we help them become productive citizens that can survive in this world then we’ve done our job … The children we educate now will be taking care of us when we get older. They are our future nurses, doctors, construction workers — all of these kids will have some type of part to play with what happens to us in the future. That’s what motivates me. I know it’s a tough job, but if we don’t help to shape and model (students) to be positive people and upstanding citizens, who’s going to teach them?

“I have an impact, I know that,” she continued. “I see it every day. You have kids that drive you crazy some days but you see others that come back and tell you thank you. I had a student track me down a couple years ago to let me know they graduated. They told me they would have never done that if they hadn’t been in my school.”

Brigman was also complimentary of her teachers and staff for all of their hard work and dedication to the school.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to help the students we’re helping right now,” she said, adding that one of her proudest accomplishments was watching several of her students get selected to attend the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Student Leadership Institute on the campus of William Peace University in Raleigh.

“We’re really trying to instill in them a sense of leadership in our building,” Brigman noted. “If you have the support of your peers, I think what they say carries a lot more weight than what we as adults can do.”

On top of her students and staff, Brigman said she is also thankful for the sacrifices her husband and children make so she can do her job.

“They are understanding when I am late for games or can’t make it to a school event,” she said.

Brigman is married to husband Chip, a teacher at Rohanen Middle School, and has five children: Tori, Dylan, Carter, Tripp and Madeline.

 

Filed in: Education, Latest Headlines, News

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