By Alison James
It’s not always easy being the new principal, but when Mary Patton stepped into her new role, she really just continued what has been a long history at Southview Primary –14 years of influencing children.
“I just felt led to do something different,” Patton said. “I love kids and I love teaching – I just felt I was ready to use my gifts in a different way.
“Watching principals like Laura Hartley and Mary Anna Martin Smith made me realize that I could be a principal and still have those connections with kids, just on a larger scale.”
A 1995 Opelika High School graduate, Patton rose through the ranks, so to speak, from kindergarten teacher, to first grader teacher, to second grade teacher, where she has been for the past eight years.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to teach,” Patton said. “My mom has been a teacher for nearly 40 years, so I spent a great deal of time growing up around the schoolhouse. At 14, my first job was as an assistant swimming lessons instructor at the Opelika Parks and Rec.”
Patton said she couldn’t ask for a better school in which to be an administrator, as Southview has been built into something great by previous administrators.
“We have a really strong staff here, and it’s a very positive climate,” Patton said. “The kids are happy here, and the parents are typically happy here, and I hope to just keep it that way.”
Patton said she is most excited “to be able to affect teachers and students in a positive way on a larger scale.”
“I just want to keep the momentum going with a lot of great programs that we have in place,” Patton said. “I feel really confident with what (Laura Hartley ) has in place.”
Opelika Superintendent Mark Neighbors said choosing Mary Patton for the principal’s seat was an easy decision.
“She was a great teacher – nothing but accolades,” Neighbors said. “We need servant-leaders, and she is that.”
Teachers and students at Southview, Patton said, have been supportive of her transition into her new role.
“The first graders that are second graders now have all come up and given hugs and smiles and are happy that I’m the principal,” Patton said.
Patton earned her master’s degree from Troy and is currently working toward her doctorate at Auburn University.
She said the work she and teachers do at Southview is essential to a child’s growth and development.
“I think at this age they are especially influenced by daily interaction with adults,” Patton said. “It’s our job to help them grow … on a social, emotional, behavioral and academic level. It’s not only about academics; it’s about developing the whole child.”