Karen Felder, Principal of Jennie Moore Elementary School, has a work ethic that is unsurpassed, according to the school's vice principal Susan Fitz. And her 100 percent attendance record is proof of her dedication.
That's why it was no surprise that she is to be honored as the Star Principal of the Year for the Charleston County school district 2011-12.
According to Fitz, “Her presence sets the tone for the teachers and students. As a result, the attendance rate for teachers is 98.4 percent and for students it's 96.4 percent. She greets students and parents each day - setting the tone that she is excited they are at school, and that she is confident that they will have a great day,” Fitz explained.
Charleston County School District awards the Star Teachers and Principals recognition annually. Nominations are accepted throughout the district and after nominations have been narrowed down, finalists submit an application packet for final judging.
Felder was nominated by her peers in the elementary education category and was honored to be chosen.
Felder received a BS in Physical Education from Appalachian State University, and fresh out of college, she began her teaching career in Greenwood. In 1981 she began at Wando High School as a physical education instructor at the young age of 22. She also coached tennis and JV basketball and track. In 1990 she moved on to Mount Pleasant Academy again teaching physical education. It was there that Felder became interested in administration. The principal there, Jayne Davis allowed Felder to fill in doing assistant principal administrative duties, since there was not an assistant principal on staff. During that time Felder got her certification in administration and was hired in 2000 as assistant principal at Orange Grove Elementary School.
She worked there for three years before being named principal at Jennie Moore Elementary School where she has been principal for nine years.
Administrators from the elementary, middle, high school zones were nominated and selected by their peers for this prestigious district award. “It is always an honor to be recognized by your peers,” Felder said. “They understand what you do everyday and the dedication that goes into it.”
Felder works closely with other administrators across the district, sharing ideas, seeking advice and finding solutions together.
“There were plenty of others deserving of this award, so it is truly an honor to be a part of this group. It is inspiring to have been nominated by those just as worthy of this honor,”
Fitz said that Felder's passion for her school and education carries out into the community. “Karen attends students' basketball games, softball games, football games, swim meets to cheer them on. She had worked extensively with an ecumenical group of churches to expand the I-Beam volunteer program throughout Mount Pleasant schools and churches. She attended church services at most of Mount Pleasant places of worship to explain and promote the program. She did this all so that our children could receive additional support and mentoring,” she explained.
In addition, Felder has been instrumental in developing the philosophy of learning through the creative arts. According to Fitz, “As a foundational piece of our program for the creative arts, Karen developed a program called Arts Infusion. Through this program, classroom teachers and the arts specialists collaborate to develop units of study that use the arts to enhance the academic standards.”
For example, Fitz said, second grade students' learning of a social studies standard of Community and Geography would be supported by the art teacher; they would learn about historical places and landmarks unique to the Lowcountry. Focusing on the art work of artists Carew Rice and Kara Walker, students would create translucent silhouette designs that depict the landmarks on a postcard they write and send home through the mail. “With Arts Infusion, teachers know that they are working together to ensure our students are successful in the core curriculum and the arts.”
There has been a drastic turn around in the community's perception of Jennie Moore, Fitz explained.
She said Felder instituted and open door policy and invited parents into the building. She encouraged them to become active stakeholders in their children's education. Today Jennie Moore has more than 300 consistent volunteers in its building. Fitz said turnover is almost non-existent.
Jennie Moore Elementary will be moving to Wando South this summer in preparation for a campus overhaul at their current location. A primary school will be constructed on the property, and new facilities that will house Jennie Moore Elementary and Laing Middle School.
“We are excited to be sharing a campus with Laing at Wando South so we can begin establishing that parent, student, education community,” Felder said.
Jennie Moore is a partial arts magnet school, while Laing is a partial science and math magnet. That creates a well rounded learning environment for the students, Felder explained.
And what makes Jennie Moore unique to other schools in the area is the diverse population.
“We have groups who have lived here all of their lives, and then those who are new to the area - which creates a nice combination,” Felder said. “The diverse ethnic groups we have is a wonderful reflection of the world these children will grow up in,” she said.
“The parents and children have exposure to people who are not just like them, and everyone learns from each other, everyday.”
Felder said the strengths of Jennie Moore are simple. “We have great teachers, great students and great parents. And we all work together.”
Felder graduated from Wando High School and is a lifelong resident of Mount Pleasant. Today her former students are bringing their children into school and she loves the connection between generations.
As a retired principal from Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, Fitz said she has seen many good principals. “Often we recognize principals who bring innovative programs to their schools and or the districts in which they work. But it is the addition of devotion and passion that is necessary to truly make an excellent principal. When I retired here in Mount Pleasant and decided to seek a job to continue in education, I knew that I could not just work anywhere. I spent my time interviewing principals and schools as much as they spent time interviewing me. What I found so appealing about Karen Felder that enticed me to leave retirement behind was her exceptional human relation skills. It was evident that she had the trust and commitment of her staff and her community,” Fitz said.