When Craig Washington finished his four years at Charleston Southern with a degree in music education, he didn’t appreciate how much more he would learn in his future career. Right out of college, he accepted two teaching positions in rural Charleston County at McClellanville Middle and Lincoln High. Washington was raised in a rural environment himself, in Florence County. His stepfather had no more than a third-grade education and his mother left school in the ninth grade. He knew the pitfalls of children slipping through the cracks and as an educator decided he would “…encourage kids to look at all their possibilities.”
After two years, he and his wife, Barbie, also a CSU alum, returned to Florence. After one year, Craig was promoted to assistant principal. He was 24 years old. That first year was tough. He was asked to supervise teachers and staff who had children his age. “It wasn’t a struggle for the students to accept me, it was the adults around me,” he glibly remembers. Once those adults witnessed his passion and commitment to his teachers and his students, those concerns evaporated.
In didn’t take long before Washington was promoted again. He was now the principal at Southside Middle School where he was in charge of 945 seventh and eighth graders. “This is a difficult age. They’re growing into their bodies, hormones are raging, they can be mean to each other. This is a period that can make or break a kid,” says Washington.
The school needed to improve its test scores. The image also needed re-shaping as it was an old school that didn’t enjoy many modern pieces of equipment. How did he impact change? Students were told they were getting a fresh start. No matter what had happened before, Principal Washington promised each student they’d have an opportunity to shape their own destinies.
In his third year, report cards improved from below average to average. Chrome books were secured for every student to assist learning beyond the classroom. The school was improving and the school district was noticing.
Recently, Craig Washington was selected Principal of the Year for Florence District #1. In reflecting on this accomplishment, Washington believes different experiences in college shaped him for this achievement.
When once struggling with a particular education course, Craig was faced with wondering if he was cut out to be an educator. It crushed him initially. But a follow-up visit with his band director gave him a new resolve. “Dr. Don Morris told me to not give up and to go back to that class because I could do it.” A recommitted Washington got an “A” in the advanced class and while serving as a student teacher at College Park was told by that principal that “I was awesome working with kids.”
It was a lesson he still embraces. He tries to give his students hope and inspiration. He is far more in tune with a struggling student because he once sat in the same desk. “Having a teacher believe in me in college, totally made the difference.”
There was no reason, given his surroundings, that Washington should have expected to achieve great things in the field of education. But somebody believed in him, and his mission is to convey that same spirit of perseverance and hope to his Southside students every day.
By Warren Peper/photos by Rebecca Cross, Morning News