Some things just make sense. Sullivan’s Island Elementary School Principal Susan King has science running through her veins. As SIE prepares for another year as a science/ math/coastal environment partial magnet school, King is well-equipped to lead its teachers and students.
King’s father, Mac Rawls, was a science teacher in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and she often would accompany him on field trips to the Chesapeake Bay, a coastal area not unlike the Lowcountry.
“We would go on seine trips, study the salt marsh, learn about pollution and other things that impact the environment,” she remembered.
King took an indirect route to Charleston County, graduating from Virginia Tech and teaching science – what else? – in Virginia Beach for 10 years. She did the same in Lima, Peru, for a year before returning to the United States to earn her master’s in Leadership and Administration at the University of Virginia.
From there she ventured south to take a job as an assistant principal in Miami. In the spring, she completed her ninth year as principal at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. She has fond memories of her first year on the job, for obvious reasons.
“The very first year I was principal, I was expecting John Daniel,” she said.
Now her daughter, Julie, has graduated and John Daniel, her son, will be in the third grade. King and her family live in Snee Farm.
King’s current kindergarteners through fifth graders at Sullivan’s Island Elementary, who will return to a brand new building on the beach in August 2014, have the good fortune to participate in learning experiences similar to the ones King and her father shared when she was a child. She and her staff use the environment in their own backyard as a teaching laboratory. How many other schools have a calendar that includes “Sand Castle Day”? In fact, the school’s vision statement is: “To create inquiry based learners equipped with the skills to explore and contribute as stewards of the Earth and environment.”
King’s work continues long after her students leave for their summer break. She and School Project Architect Jerry English recently attended the Learning Environments for Tomorrow program, offered at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with support from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The course, for educators, designers and architects, was all about collaboration.
“We are expecting children to be problem solvers. We invite students to be creative,” King explained.
In addition, King and Amy Cario, the principal at St. Andrew’s School of Math and Science, were selected to participate in the Safari Club International Environmental Workshop for Education Leaders this July in Wyoming.
“The two schools are looking forward to working together on many initiatives, including professional development for teachers,” said King. “I believe in the importance of providing hands-on engagement while using the outdoors as a classroom.” And with 26 years of experience in education under her belt, King is the ideal person to foster the changes that have taken place at her school. After it was determined that SIE and four other Charleston County Schools wouldn’t survive an earthquake, Sullivan’s Island Elementary was moved to the former Whitesides Elementary facility on Rifle Range Road in Mount Pleasant at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. Ground was broken for a new, 74,000-square-foot school on the beach in January of this year. The new SIE will be able to accommodate 500 students in a building that will include project labs, a media center, an art room, computer labs and 24 classrooms, according to the Charleston County School District’s website.
Being outside always been an easy sell for King because of her childhood, professional experience and love of nature. In her spare time, she enjoys camping, photography and “really anything outdoors.”
It all truly makes sense for this good steward of “learning by the sea.”
Story and photos by Helen Ravenel Hammond.