Superintendent of Schools David J. Holleran introduced the new Thomas Hunter Middle School principal to board members and the audience at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Mathews County School Board. And to many it was a familiar face.
Laurel Byrd, the long-time Spanish teacher at Mathews High School and assistant principal at THMS for the past two years, was named to that school’s top administrative post during the meeting which was held in the MHS media center.
She replaces Mike Comer, who announced his retirement in February. Comer was middle school principal for the past four years, serving as assistant principal before that.
A 1989 graduate of Gloucester High School, Byrd received a degree in Spanish from Sweet Briar College. She taught two years in Gloucester before coming over to Mathews. In addition to teaching Spanish, she also served as a faculty mentor for the Teachers for Tomorrow program for students interested in pursuing a career in education.
"I love being here in Mathews," Byrd said. "I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It really is a dream come true," she said of her new assignment. "I am really looking forward to next year."
"These are some big shoes to fill," Byrd said of her predecessor as principal, speaking of Comer’s integrity and leadership skills.
Comer also took the time to thank a long list of people who helped him in his career, from his wife Cindy to former MHS principal Mary Whitley and former Superintendent of Schools Harry Ward. Becoming principal four years ago, he said, was the achievement of a lifelong goal.
He also thanked the school board and current administration. "I always knew you had my back," he said. About the selection of Byrd to replace him, Comer told the school board members "you guys have made a wonderful choice." He praised her tremendous compassion and leadership skills. "She is the best choice," he said.
In other news, the school board reviewed the third nine week testing data in preparation for the upcoming SOL tests. While most of the pass rates were in the 80 or above percentile, there were a couple of numbers that concerned the school board members.
The biggest one was the 22 percent pass rate for students taking the Algebra I practice test at MHS. Assistant superintendent Nancy Welch said that the students are getting an additional 180 minutes a week in remediation, along with a prep session immediately before the June 3 SOL test.
"I can assure you that our teachers, our administrators and a majority of our students are doing the best they can" in order to pass the test, Holleran said. He attributed part of the reason for the low score to the higher order thinking skills being emphasized by the state Department of Education. "I’m extremely concerned about that pass rate right now," he said. "I just want to assure you we’re doing everything we can."