Reading accounts of low test scores, falling enrollment and discipline issues can create a bad impression of Anderson Community Schools. When you actually visit one of the schools and see the efforts of staff firsthand and their impact on students, you leave with a much different impression.

As part of the Ike Weatherly Essay Contest committee, I have the opportunity each year to visit the winning students’ schools and help confer awards. Last Friday, the committee visited three schools in Anderson: St. Mary’s, East Side Intermediate and Liberty Christian Elementary.

I participated in the first two visits, but responsibilities back at the newspaper office kept me from making the trip to Liberty Christian. The kids were bright and the staff welcoming at St. Mary’s, and I could write an entire column about how impressed the committee was.

But I want to focus here on East Side Intermediate School for two reasons: one, it is part of the Anderson Community Schools network; and, two, it is slated for closing at the end of the current school year.

The most striking thing about ESIS on Friday was the smiles. Principal Yvonne Ritchey smiled, Assistant Principal Eric Davis smiled, and others working in the office smiled, too. And when the piano theme music from the Charlie Brown TV specials came through the school speakers, signaling passing period and releasing hordes of students into the halls, most of them wore smiles.

Then the committee was ushered to the fourth-grade classroom of Mrs. Sachse, where essay winner Megan Kirkpatrick could be found. Guess what? Mrs. Sachse was smiling. When Megan, with a huge grin on her face, and then Mrs. Sachse were asked to come to the front of the room to be honored, both were greeted with smiles and applause from the other students.

“So, what?” you may ask. “What difference does all of this smiling make?”

It is reflective of the enjoyment of working and learning at ESIS. And, in this case, all the smiling was accompanied by a pervasive culture of mutual respect — for the principal, for the teachers and for the students. Clearly, this is how things are at the school, not just some “Fantasy Island” put-on for the eight-person essay committee.

As in most organizations, the culture is attributable mostly to the person at the top. At school, it all starts with the principal, and Mrs. Ritchey obviously enjoys her work very much and uses that enjoyment to persevere through tough times.

ESIS is like any other school: It surely has its share of troubled students, disgruntled parents and, yes, uncommitted faculty. But attitude can make everything better, and the essay committee’s visit Friday suggested that every day, all things considered, is a good day at ESIS.

In June, the building will close as the school system goes through yet another reorganization. Here’s hoping — and believing — the spirit of East Side Intermediate School will live on in each ACS facility.

Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Contact him at scott.underwood@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4845.

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