Gilmer: From popsicle sticks to human students

First-year principal, breast cancer survivor:
‘Life is too brief to not step out and make a difference.’

By Mallory Brown
Special to The Pee Dee Post

For some, the desire to teach is innate. For others, it’s acquired. For Yvonne Gilmer, it all began with popsicle sticks.

The L.J. Bell Elementary principal has been in her role for only 12 months, but education has been in her blood since she was a child.

Yvonne Gilmer

Yvonne Gilmer

“I think my mom tells the story about when I was a little girl and I used to teach all my baby dolls,” Gilmer said. “Outside, I would have popsicle sticks in the ground — those were my students and I would teach them.”

Although born in Greenville, S.C., Gilmer said she spent several of her early years in Tennessee and Kansas.

“Living in the culture of the midwest was a rich learning experience for this Southern girl,” she said. “Our family has lasting friendships from our six years in Kansas.”

In high school, Gilmer said she felt called to pursue teaching as a career because of her passion to make a difference in the lives of others. She later attended Heritage Bible College and the University of North Carolina in Greensboro before serving as a teacher and assistant principal in schools throughout North Carolina and Florida.

Nearly 24 years of experience later, Gilmer’s journey brought her here.

“I came to Richmond County from Randolph County Schools last year,” she said. “My husband transferred with his job and the opportunity for the principal assignment at L.J. Bell became available.”

Since then, the school has continued to flourish.

“One of my goals at L.J. Bell is to continue to make academic growth,” Gilmer said. “And along with that, in 2017 we hope to be a National Lighthouse School for the Leader in Me program.” Through that initiative, she said she hopes to continue to develop strong teacher and student leaders.

“I also want to continue to learn and grow professionally,” she added. “I love training and I love to go to school. I’m currently in a National Mentor and Coaching certification program with the National Association of Elementary School Principals.”

But her accomplishments don’t stop there — Gilmer can attest to another life-changing experience that helped to mold her into the person she is today.

“I am a breast cancer survivor (for 17 years),” she said. “Life is too brief to not step out and make a difference. A principal can be an agent of change. We only have students for a short amount of time each day. We need to make the seven hours we have them have purpose and meaning, so when they walk out the door, they have a ticket in their hand to lead them on their journey to success.”

Gilmer admitted to several other individuals who heavily influenced her beliefs—academically, relationally and spiritually.

“My third grade teacher, Vivian Turpin, influenced my life in school,” she said. “Her caring and loving ways helped me as a struggling reader. I learned to read and comprehend under her instruction and guidance.”

Because of that, Gilmer said she is motivated to see students engaged in learning and showing growth.

She also credits her family for helping her along the way.

“My parents taught me to love and respect all human life;” she said, “to leave room in my heart for disappointment and victories; enrich my life with music, literature and the Bible. My husband encourages me in my work, is a sounding board and the voice of sound reason. And,” she said, “most of all, God, My Savior, who is the faithful keeper and guide in my life.”

Gilmer has been married to Reverend Steven L. Gilmer for 36 years. Rev. Gilmer is the pastor at The ROC Church of God of Prophecy in Rockingham. They have two sons, Stuart (and wife Casi), who is a high school teacher and varsity softball coach in Cumberland County Schools in Fayetteville, and Kyle (and wife Stephanie), an elementary/middle school teacher and varsity baseball coach at Greensboro Day Academy in Greensboro.

Gilmer and her husband have four grandchildren, Mallory, Maddux, Noah and Boston.

Editor’s note: October is National Principals Month. The Pee Dee Post will publish profiles on each of the county’s 16 school principals as submitted by Richmond County Schools during the month.

* Jamie Greene – East Rockingham Elementary School

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