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New Horizons : Paige Dickey and Rincon Elementary School

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Tonya Perry
Rincon Elementary School has a whole new look. Well, it actually has a little more than just a new look. It is an entirely new school all together.  In fact, it stands as the largest elementary school in the county, being built to accommodate 1,200 students; however, it will start with about 975. This new school’s doors opened bright and early on Thursday, August 2nd. Paige Dickey, a Savannah native, has been the school’s principal for over 13 years. She is excited about the new school and even more excited to see how her students respond.

Paige lives in the local area, along with her husband Travis and their three children: Walker, Conner and Brittany. Travis is originally from Effingham. Paige has been an educator for over 28 years. She began her career as a special education (SPED) teacher in 1991 at the Coastal Georgia Academy in Savannah. After investing five years there, she moved to Effingham County High School (ECHS), where she continued teaching SPED for two years. Afterward, she was the South Effingham High School (SEHS) assistant principal for a couple of years, before becoming a special education program manager for the Fayette County Board of Education. She also had a four-year tenure as the assistant principal of Effingham County High School (ECHS) prior to her position at Rincon Elementary. Interestingly enough, this will be the first time that Paige has been privileged to be in a brand-new building.
The entire building processes began about two years ago; the faculty and staff actually started their packing initiatives after student testing was completed last spring. Paige is grateful for all the help of the young ladies and young men of the SEHS and ECHS Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). Both groups worked extra hard to assure that the move was smooth and successful. SEHS helped with the move out of the old building, while ECHS assisted with the move into the new one.
“Those were some amazing kids. It was wonderful; it was well orchestrated,” Paige said. She adds, “our maintenance department has been amazing with our move and helping us settle in.”
She remembers some of the things that everyone did at the old school to make the moving process fun, including having pretend day-outs: “cookouts, beach days and campouts.”
“There were definitely a lot of memories made with that move. One teacher even bought a family-sized tent, and they all had reading time together in the tent. It was awesome; it was fun,” Paige added.
Paige is anxious to see everything unfold. She, too, is excited about a few new things in particular.
“My favorite part is the ‘reading tree,’” she mentioned. Having a Winnie the Pooh theme, an entire portion of the library has a model of a big tree within a forest that can be entered and exited. Designed to cater, more so, to younger students, the entire cozy setting is sure to make story time fun and help foster a love for reading. Paige plans to “have story time on Fridays with her pre-k students.”
“I like to get to know our kids when they’re little, because many of our children stay with us the whole time. It’s nice to see them from four years old through ten, building relationships as they grow,” she said.
Additionally, Paige is looking forward to promoting even more overall literacy this academic year, which will coincide with the county literacy initiative. She and her faculty and staff are also dedicated to helping students further their knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math with their new STEM labs.
She is committed to diligently working to assure that the wonderful qualities that have long been prevalent within the school do not change just because the physical make-up has.
“Our kids are going to be in this beautiful new school…this new environment. Everything changes, but you have to keep your core values. We’re going to bring our traditions and our heart for children here. We’re going to ensure that the heart of our school does not change, and I don’t think it will,” Paige remarked.
Much of the atmosphere of any school is a direct result of the strength and the heart of its leadership. Paige takes pride in having a mother’s heart and wants that to be obvious to every student and parent.
“I’m a mom first. When I hire, I hire as a mom first, and then a principal. My first goal is to take care of them. If you don’t love kids, you can’t teach them. The relationship piece is the most important to me. I value the relationships,” she said.
Speaking of values, Paige believes that all students deserve a quality education and great academic opportunities. That said, Rincon Elementary has been a “Title I Highest Performing Reward School for about 14 years.” Title I status allows for federal financial assistance, namely grants, to be allocated if “children from low-income families make up at least 40% of enrollment; Title I funds may be used for schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school.” These programs are created to help all students meet “state academic standards,” especially those most academically challenged.
“Anybody can be brilliant, and anybody can do their best; it doesn’t matter their income level,” Paige stated.
“Title I has provided a lot of advantages. It has provided our parent liaison, Reneé Rollins, who is wonderful; federal title money pays for that,” Paige said. Reneé spearheads various academic and social programs, including the Christmas Wish List, designed to aid less fortunate families during the Christmas season.
“Parents love her,” Paige added. She is grateful to have a great parent-teacher organization, PTO, to help with overall efforts.
“They’re wonderful. They help immensely…always here, always helping,” she commented. It certainly takes a village in student success, and Paige, along with her team of educators, does not take that for granted.
“For the past 14 years, we’re always ranked in the top 5% of title schools in the state. Our kids do really well. Their parents work hard; the teachers work hard; the kids work hard,” Paige said.
Paige highly regards her entire school faculty and staff and is proud to work with such noteworthy individuals who share in her sincere love for the kids.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover; we have very steady teachers. I think our biggest advantage is that we hire people that love children. It’s a very welcoming and nurturing environment. Everybody works together; everybody has the best interest of the kids at heart, and that’s what matters. It’s about the kids,” Paige stated.
She mentions some of those individuals that she works closely with to ensure student success–her assistant principals. Kirbi Ratner, a former 2nd grade teacher and 5th grade math, science and social studies teacher, is the “instructional supervisor over curriculum, instruction and testing.”
“She was phenomenal in the classroom, and she is phenomenal as the instructional supervisor,” Paige declared. Tracy Kieffer, once a student at Rincon Elementary, became a teacher for the school and is now an administrator. Paige knows that she adds tremendous value to the team. Paige feels privileged to have Melissa Long, who recently transferred from Marlow Elementary School. All-in-all, everyone is certainly dedicated to student success.
As Paige looks out the window of her new office, she is very pleased with what she sees. She is confident that the future of Rincon Elementary School will be as bright as the skies above.

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