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Here’s what it’s like to be principal of Forsyth County’s oldest school
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Big Creek Elementary principal Laura Webb listens to a fourth-grade student describe a project on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. - photo by Brian Paglia

Laura Webb took her seat in front of a television camera and was suddenly seconds away from going live to almost 700 elementary school students.

It was 7:45 a.m., and the start of a frenetic day for Big Creek Elementary’s principal. 

She had pictures to take with contest winners and visits to make to classes.

She had to welcome students from South Forsyth Middle School and meet with the school system’s elementary school director to discuss a new reading curriculum.

She expected spontaneous requests from staff and challenges to pop up.

But that would be a routine day for Webb, who has been principal at Big Creek since 2015.

After almost five years in charge, she has grown accustomed to the frenzy that comes with the position.

“You get your steps in,” Webb said. “It’s all on the go.”

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Big Creek Elementary principal Laura Webb poses for pictures with students on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. - photo by Brian Paglia

Webb was hired as an assistant principal at Big Creek in 2014 after working 12 years in Fulton County schools, though her family moved to Forsyth County in 2008.

Before the end of Webb’s first year at Big Creek, the school’s principal, Sherri Black, announced she was retiring. By that February, Webb was selected to replace her.

It was a whirlwind final few months of the school year. Webb still had her responsibilities as assistant principal, which included overseeing standardized tests for the school, but she also started to transition into the principal position.

“That second semester was pretty crazy,” Webb said.

But Webb settled in, and her life as a principal is comfortably unpredictable.

Webb’s day starts before the rest of her family. She’s the first to wake up at home. She sets out her two kids’ lunches and lets out the family dog, Sabre, a 16-year-old lab-pit bull mix. She makes breakfast as her husband, Don, a principal in Fulton County, and youngest son, Conner, wake up. They talk about their days ahead, then Laura leaves for Big Creek.

Webb takes advantage of the 15-minute drive to think through her priorities for the day ahead, because chances are she won’t have time when she walks into the building.

“The minute you walk in the door, you’re available to people,” Webb said.

Her first priority is to help kids get off the bus, then it’s off to do the morning announcements.

Webb walks to the original Big Creek school building from 1939 that sits in the middle of the campus. Big Creek is the county’s oldest elementary school still in operation. This year is the school’s 80th anniversary.

Big Creek has seen plenty of changes during those 80 years. School facilities have been expanded or renovated nine times. Enrollment has fluctuated wildly with South Forsyth’s rapid growth since the early 2000s. The student population is majority-minority, with 56.32% of 689 students identifying as Asian.

It makes Big Creek a unique place: rich in history while in the midst of Forsyth County’s evolution.

“We’re so proud of our history,” Webb said, “but we’re always asking, ‘Where are we going?’”

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Big Creek Elementary is the oldest school still in operation in Forsyth County. The original school building, built in 1939, is still very much a part of campus life. - photo by Brian Paglia
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Pictures of Big Creek Elementary School around the time it opened in 1939 hang in the original building's auditorium. - photo by Brian Paglia

Seated in front of the camera, Webb prepared to make her daily appearance on the morning announcements.

A student producer silently counted down her cue.

Three, two, one.

“Good morning, Big Creek Wildcats!” Webb said.

By 7:50 a.m., Webb was down the hall in the original school building auditorium. She posed for pictures with a peppy group of students who had won awards for their work in various art forms.

Ten minutes later, Webb started to make her morning lap around the school.

She visited Sue Norris’s kindergarten class where students were creating artwork that represented a moment they showed courage. One student showed her his picture of fireworks.

She visited Morgan O’Leary’s first-grade class as they learned about “power words.” They were getting ready to read in the dark for “Flashlight Friday.”

She stopped by the Wildcat Wonderlab, the school’s STEM lab it opened in 2018, where Jennifer Bach helped students build bridges with different materials.

She checked it on Big Creek’s new robotics lab, autism classes, the media center and Turkey Town, where two classes of fifth-graders sat in a decorated alcove and listened to a Thanksgiving story.

“We’re two mighty pilgrims coming your way,” read Katie Collins, one of the school’s two instructional coaches.

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Big Creek Elementary instructional coaches Katie Collins, left, and Heather Smith read to fifth-graders on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, at “Turkey Town,” a special reading nook where students gathered on the last day before Thanksgiving break to listen to stories. - photo by Brian Paglia

By the time Webb returned to her office, it was 9:30 a.m. A large Coke from McDonald’s was waiting on her desk thanks to Brittany Knoup, one of the school’s receptionists.

Fifteen minutes later, Webb went back to the old school building auditorium to welcome a group from South Forsyth Middle School visiting to help Big Creek students.

“They are so excited to see you,” Webb said.

Then Webb went back to the Big Creek main office.

Back and forth, back and forth, Webb crisscrossed the school all day.

To the Wildcat Cafe to meet with Shelly Gerstner, Big Creek’s food and nutrition manager, to talk about a special treat coming soon: birthday cake for each student on the school’s 80th day of its 80th year.

To the old auditorium again to see a group of Big Creek’s gifted students working on their “Future Problem Solvers” project, a new curriculum they started this school year.

To the main office again by noon to meet with Rebecca Johnson, an elementary school director with Forsyth County Schools to discuss American Reading Company, or ARC, the district’s new reading curriculum.

And when students were dismissed at 2:10 p.m., Webb still had more to do: emails to catch up on, meetings with teachers, checking in with her administrative team of Kelly Fuchs and Jennifer Parker, preparing her to-do list for the next day.

But Webb is also charged with thinking of Big Creek’s big picture. Her main concerns are always instruction, safety and culture, she said.

In her four years as principal, she’s helped implement “The Voyage,” a social-emotional learning program that emphasizes different character traits each month; the Wildcat Wonderlab for STEM; the robotics lab with new Vex robotics competitions teams; new autism classrooms; the “Future Problem Solvers” curriculum; and emphasized a “love of learning” teaching style to better engage students.

But there’s always more on the horizon. Webb and her admin team are planning a big event in the spring to celebrate the school’s 80th anniversary. A local parent is coordinating the construction of a new soccer field. And Webb is constantly thinking up ways to make life at Big Creek enjoyable for her teachers.

“It’s just a constant cycle of see, plan, do, check,” Webb said.