Principal looks forward to second retirement

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SPENCER — When Rick Hampton took over as the principal of North Rowan Elementary School in 2004 he quickly realized that regular Band-Aids simply aren’t good enough.
“I had to go out and buy Blues Clues and Sponge Bob Band-Aids,” he said. “I fixed a lot of boo-boos with those Band-Aids. They always brought a smile.”
Prior to taking over the top spot at North, Hampton had worked with middle school students for more than 32 years, serving as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal at West Rowan Middle School.
When he retired in 2003, he didn’t stay home long before then-Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby gave him a call to serve as interim principal at Erwin Middle School. He also acted as an interim assistant principal at Salisbury High School before Doby convinced him to come back for good.
Hampton said he immediately fell in love with North Elementary, staying “one more year” for seven years.
“The job is kind of the same everywhere you go” he said. “It’s the people that make a difference.”
Hampton said he immediately bonded with the students and staff at North and enjoyed the change of pace from middle school.
“The kids will come up and give you hugs, they can be very affectionate and appreciation of things you do for them,” he said.
It’s those hugs that Hampton says he’ll miss most.
He called it quits Thursday, retiring to spend more time with family.
“It’s really hard to stop,” he said.
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Hampton said being an educator has been a happy accident.
While attending school at Catawba College, his advisors pushed him toward becoming a teacher, a high-demand career at the time.
“At 18 and 19 years old, I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing,” he said. “I just went along with it and it turned out to be a really great thing.”
After graduating, Hampton was working at a sporting goods shop in Salisbury when the principal at West Rowan Junior High School, George Knox, approached him about teaching at the school.
Hampton spent about 11 years working under Knox as both a teacher and assistant principal.
“I learned a lot from Mr. Knox. He kind of groomed me” he said. “I always joke that I’m a Knox-trained man.”
When Knox retired in 1985, Hampton stepped in as principal.
School board member Kay Wright Norman taught music under Hampton’s leadership at West Junior.
“It was wonderful working with him and I think probably most people would say that he just has a great folksy spirit,” she said.
Norman said Hampton’s imagination helped him easily connect with students.
“He’s fun. I think that’s great to have an environment to be serious about what you’re there for and you can also laugh about circumstances you don’t have control over.”
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Norman said Hampton connected well with students and teachers alike.
“One of the things that made him really successful was his ability to communicate,” she said.
Hampton said he always practiced an open-door policy.
“I’ve tried to be very accessible and visible to students, teachers and parents,” she said. “I always wanted parents to feel like they could come to me.”
As a parent of three children, Hampton said he understands that children are their parents’ most prized possession and building trust was important.
“I wanted them to know that if I made a mistake it was from the head not the heart. I always like to think that we are doing the best thing for children.”
Dr. Sarah Hensley, the school system’s director of elementary education, said Hampton has a “heart of gold.”
“He cares about children and his staff,” she said. “He’s like a magnet, when the kids seem him they just gravitate to him.”
And Hensley said he takes the time to get right down on the same level as the children.
“He loves them all,” she said.
Norman describes Hampton as a “great big teddy bear.”
When it comes to decision-making, Hensley said Hampton is like a wise sage.
“He’s just a perfect administrator. He’s wise in knowing what to do but he also has so much common sense,” she said.
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Hampton said the biggest change he’s seen in education during his 40-year career is the advancement in technology.
“Technology has really changed the landscape of education,” he said. “It just makes everything move at a faster pace. We can cover more topics and curriculum now because we have immediate access to information.”
Hampton said in the past educators were always looking for that “teachable moment,” which is no longer the case.
“With the access to technology that teachable moment is always there,” he said.
With new technology popping up, Hampton says the possibilities will be limitless in the future.
“With this kind of digital generation the main change I’ve seen is in the way children learn, their learning style,” he said.
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Hampton said though he’s looking foward to spending time with his 2-month-old grandson, Hampton Lee, playing golf, fishing and cooking for his family, he’s going to miss the faces of his staff and students at North Elementary.
“That’s what it’s all about, the people,” he said.
The most rewarding part of his career has been knowing he’s had a part in shaping students’ futures, he said.
“It’s more of an intrinsic reward” he said. “It’s nice knowing you help kids grow and develop.”
Norman said she hates to see Hampton go, but she is glad he’ll get to enjoy the role of grandfather.
“I think the work he has done there is phenomenal. I think he was the right person at the right time,” she said. “I hope we can find someone who can really pick up the torch and keep going after he leaves.”
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Hampton said Jim Valvano, the legendary N.C. State basketball coach who died of cancer, sums up his entire career in education with the following words:
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. And No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
“I’ve had a pretty full ride,” Hampton said. “I’ve done all of those things every day.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.