SALISBURY — Speakers at a reception honoring Dr. Judy Grissom on Thursday praised her vision, her passion and her tireless dedication as superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Grissom will be retiring Sept. 30 after seven and a half years leading the school system. A crowd of educators and community leaders gathered at the F&M Trolley Barn on Thursday evening to say goodbye, waiting patiently in line to give her hugs and well wishes.
About 15 of them took to a stage to speak.
The first was Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, who is serving his third year on the board.
“We will miss your courage, your endurance, your wisdom and most of all, your humility,” Miller said. “So will 20,000 students who have benefited from your strength, not only here but from the 43 years that you’ve been in education.”
Bryce Beard was chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education when Grissom was hired as superintendent in 2008.
“That board, to a person, is very proud of the part we played in getting Judy here,” Beard said. “When you’re leading, you have to know when you don’t know, and your job is to find the person that does know. That’s what we thought we had in Judy, and I think we were proved right.”
He said the board was “in turmoil” at that time, and the members knew it needed to make a change in the school system. Grissom’s name kept coming up as someone who could turn it in a different direction, and eventually, she was hired to do just that.
After working for the Rowan-Salisbury School System as assistant superintendent for public instruction, Grissom had taken jobs in Forsyth and Alamance counties, but she never moved out of Rowan.
Beard called Grissom a visionary, a team builder and an empathetic person. She puts her whole heart into what she does, he said, and she gets involved in solving problems in the school system.
Beard said he’s proud of the $20 million in grants the school system has received in the time she has been superintendent. Much of those grants were for technology initiatives that brought Rowan-Salisbury into the 21st century, he said.
Amie Williams, assistant principal at Jesse C. Carson High School, said the 21st-century classroom she led as a teacher shows how much the schools have transformed under Grissom’s leadership.
Her classroom, Williams said, went from having one overhead projector to having laptops and iPod Touches. Students now work paperlessly and in the cloud, create iMovie trailers and take field trips on a wireless bus.
Across the county, Williams said, the school system now uses 1,060 interactive white boards and 8,000 iPads.
“You have left a legacy,” she said. “Our school district is forever changed because of the of vision you had and the passion you had for educational technology.”
A few students and one former student also spoke Thursday about Grissom’s impact in their lives.
Dylan Eagle, who graduated from Carson High School three years ago, is now a junior and student body vice president at Liberty University.
He said the first time he met Grissom was when he got to serve on the student advisory board as sophomore class president. The board met with Grissom and other school officials to talk about issues affecting Carson.
“I found out that day just how much Dr. Grissom cared individually for each student in the school system,” Eagle said. “Not only did she walk into that meeting wanting to know what she could do to help Carson, but she wanted to know how she could help us personally as students.”
He said Grissom has made an impact on his life and the lives of many other students.
“I know for a fact that we are better off because you have been here, without a shadow of a doubt,” he said.
Dr. Windsor Eagle, former principal of Salisbury High School, said Grissom is down-to-earth, real, smart and resourceful.
He said she is a good listener and communicator who works for the whole school system, not herself.
“I’ve been a principal for 41 years,” he said. “I’ve had seven superintendents, and all of them have been very talented in one way or another. Judy is the best I’ve ever seen in all categories.”
When Grissom finally took the stage, she looked around and shook her head.
“I feel like you have talked about somebody I don’t know,” she said, to laughter. “What a very strange person.”
Amy Pruitt, Rowan-Salisbury STEM Mobile Exploratory Lab teacher, presented Grissom with a framed copy of a new decal that will be placed on the back of the STEM bus. It reads, “In honor of Judy Grissom and her years of service at Rowan-Salisbury Schools.”
Bonnie Holder, school board clerk and Grissom’s executive assistant, also gave Grissom a gift on behalf of school system staff and board members.
The gift is a donation in honor of Grissom to the Scott Ryerson Scholarship Fund established at St. John’s Lutheran Church for any student in the county. The scholarship fund is named after Grissom’s late son.
Grissom gave an emotional “thank you” to her family — especially her husband, Eddie — for their support.
“This has been an incredible journey we have made together,” she said. “I came back to Rowan County seven years ago — certainly not for the job, but because I believed there was potential in this school system to be the greatest system. I still believe that. I put my heart, soul and passion into it. I hope together, all of us in this room, we have made a difference — not ‘me,’ but ‘we.’ ”
Before Grissom left, she read a poem. The last line said, “One life can make a difference. You see, it’s up to you.”
“I leave you that challenge,” Grissom said. “Now, it’s up to you.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.