Butler comes full circle at Hamlet Middle School

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
Susan Brigman
Michael Chapman
Keith McKenzie
Melvin Ingram
Wendy Jordan

By Mallory Brown
Richmond County Schools

As both a teacher and an administrator, Jim Butler has always believed in providing a positive educational experience. The veteran principal is in his seventh year at Hamlet Middle School, a place he says he wants students to remember.

“As a teacher, I knew kids didn’t always want to be at school,” he said, “but as long as they had to be here, I hoped they’d want to be in my class. I felt that as a teacher and as a principal. I hope that we create a very memorable experience during their three years at Hamlet, which includes working hard and being successful, but also planning those events and other activities that keep it special.”

Jim Butler

Jim Butler

Born in Raleigh, Butler moved to Richmond County at the age of 10. He is a 1982 graduate of Richmond Senior High School and later graduated from Pembroke State University in 1990.

“Somebody asked if I’d be interested in teaching,” he said. “I had a degree in History and didn’t really know what I was going to do with that. But I got a chance to interview at Rockingham Junior High to coach and teach Social Studies, so I thought I’d do that until I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

His career path, he said, was solidified at his 10-year reunion.

“When I showed up at the age of 28, I was glad to say I had a job, but there was a real sense of pride. I remember going that night excited to tell people I was a teacher, and that stayed with me. Even though I had a tough first year … I lived through it, got my feet under me and realized how much I loved doing it.”

For nine years Butler taught at Rockingham Junior High before spending two years as an assistant principal. He worked for a semester at Richmond Senior High as an assistant principal before accepting his first principalship at Hoffman Elementary.

“I was lucky enough that I worked under three principals,” he said. “I worked with Dr. John Langley for almost 10 years. I also worked under Linwood Huffman and Ralph Robertson. With all three principals, there were things I’ve taken to help form my own style of being a principal — and, at the same time, some things I’ve gotten to do differently. I got to see three distinct styles and take the best of them.”

Butler worked at Hoffman for two years before becoming principal at Washington Street School. Five years later, he returned home to Hamlet Junior High.

“One of the coolest things about being the principal for Hamlet is that in the summer of 1978 I lived in Hamlet,” he said, “and I used to ride my bike down there and watch them build the school. We were the first group of kids that ever attended Hamlet Junior High … It was kind of neat that I came full circle. I was standing there watching them construct the school I’d be going to, and 30 years later I became the principal. I tell the kids that I’ve been paddled in these halls, I’ve sat on the other side of the principal’s desk, I know all the hiding places in the school, so I feel like I have a real connection with it.”

When asked about those who influenced him to follow the educational career path, Butler was quick to thank his grandmother and his wife.

“My grandmother was the one that kept me in school,” he said, recalling a time when she dissuaded him from taking a job outside of the school system. “Also my wife,” he added. “If I hadn’t gotten married, I’d probably still be trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. She’s been extremely important to me and because of her I’ve been able to move forward in my career.”

At Hamlet Middle, Butler said he and his staff continue to make the experience a positive one for students.

“Every week, every month, every day as a staff we sit around and think of what we can do to make this experience positive and memorable,” he said. “Sometimes we hit the mark, sometimes we don’t, but every day we try to create an atmosphere that tells students this is the place to be. That’s what drives us every day.”

One of the school’s greatest accomplishments, he said, is the seven-year-old celebration known as Ramfest.

“We’ve had everything from flute choirs to jazz bands to bagpipes, magicians, storytellers,” he said of the school wide event. “For us it’s really important. For those two days, we can bring a little bit of the world into Hamlet to create those memories for the students.”

Another point of pride for the middle school was being named among the nation’s Schools to Watch — a state initiative part of a national recognition program developed to showcase high performing middle schools.

“It’s been very important to us,” Butler said. “We’re starting to get the chance to have people come visit us and we’ve been able to send our people out to other schools. It’s been very rewarding being a part of that.”

Butler is married to wife Debbie for 26 years. They have two children, Ryan, a recent graduate of N.C. State University, and Drew, who is currently playing baseball for Campbell University.

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