September 14, 2017
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Stephen Lewis follows his daily salutation over the Rock Springs Elementary intercom with “to the greatest school in the nation.”
Longtime librarian Patsy Evans has never tired of hearing the Rock Springs principal greet all 1,050 students and the 110 teachers, administrators and staff members who are in the building.
“We want our school to be the best school in the nation,” Evans said. “We consider ourselves the greatest school in the nation and we want to keep that image up.”
Though it looks like it did on the day it opened in August of 1997, Rock Springs Elementary celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gathering of current staff and selected guests that included former Director of Schools Harry Gill, who named Lewis the principal following the untimely death of Renee Jackson.
Many schools in Rutherford County boast of their pride.
But Evans and fellow librarian Laura Mitchell – two of seven teachers who have been at the school since it opened – recalled the all-night effort it took to make sure the school was in perfect condition on the morning doors were opened to students for the first time.
The entire staff – some of whom even recruited family and friends – volunteered to come in on Sunday to arrange furniture, sweep and wipe down the hallways, clean the bathrooms, move boxes and whatever else was needed.
Mitchell said it was a long night “but exciting.”
Evans said some of them worked all night and were still at the school when the first students arrived Monday morning.
“We were so excited to open the school the next day,” said physical education teacher Lori Mitchell. “We wanted it to be perfect.”
They took pride in making a great first impression with the La Vergne community.
And it’s still that way.
Everyone agrees it feels lived in and used, yet it looks fresh.
They also agree custodians often get overlooked.
“They do,” said Lori Mitchell, “and we still try to do our part. We want it to … look great.”
A photo of Mitchell and fellow physical education teacher Doug Birkofer, who is simply known as “Coach,” were pictured in the DNJ on the morning the school opened. They had been in all day Sunday moving boxes and getting the gymnasium ready for the first day of school.
Thursday’s gathering took place in the gym.
“We’ve had the floor redone a few times,” Birkofer said, “but all in all it’s a good building. It’s held up for us. Hopefully when I retire in another five, six, seven years — whenever — it’ll stay up. It’s a great building.”
Birkofer was among those who transferred from Stewartsboro to Rock Springs with Jackson.
Both Mitchells and Evans also came from Stewartsboro. Rose Colvin, Kim Haddock and Danette Wells have also been at Rock Springs since it opened.
Evans vividly remembers weekend visits from Jackson, who would urge Evans to drive over to the Rock Springs location to check in on the progress. She can recall watching crews tear out the peach trees that once grew on the property now occupied by the school.
When Lewis eventually replaced Richard Zago, who is currently the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Rutherford County Schools, as the third assistant principal in school history, he never thought he would become its principal so soon.
Unfortunately, Jackson lost her battle with cancer and passed away in September 2004.
Lewis arrived in January 2003 and became principal in April 2005.
She was a great lady to work for,” said Lewis, who remembered Jackson fondly. The school’s library has since been named after Jackson.
Lewis said the most important lesson he learned from Jackson, is that the most important person in the building “is the teacher in the classroom.” She believed the school is there to serve the child and because of that, the most important person was each individual teacher.
And they’ve had some great ones at Rock Springs.
The common bond found in all those who have taught or are currently teaching at Rock Springs Elementary is the care they have in students and pride in their school.
“This building is lived in,” Lewis said, “and it’s been a workhorse for 20 years now, but every day – when these kids come in – the custodians make sure that it looks great.”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT