While giving fist bumps and high fives to nearly every student that walks through the front doors of Silver City Elementary in north Forsyth County, Principal Mike Sloop is clearly in his element.
From his station outside the school’s main entrance on Thursday morning at 7:45 a.m. sharp, Sloop greets families, students and parents with an enthusiastic, “Good morning” and “Welcome back,” two phrases he will repeat hundreds of times during the 30-minute rush back to class after summer break.
“Hey, I really like those white shoes,” he says to a young boy walking in from the car line, sending the boy inside with a fist bump and “Have a great day.”
But Thursday wasn’t just the first day back at school for students at Silver City and nearly 50,000 students across Forsyth County. It was also Sloop’s first official day as a principal in the school system.
Silver City was ready for the first day and things went smoothly, he says on Friday, half way through his second official day. But he said even with the extensive planning and preparation, the whole experience has been humbling and surreal.
“I think the county prepares us very well, but you still can’t understand the role until you step into it,” Sloop said. “But things went really well, everything I feel like went very smoothly … The old adage is get’em here, get’em fed and get them home safely, and our staff did a great job of that.”
The new principal has worked in the Forsyth County school system since 2002, first at Otwell Middle School, where he served as science teacher for nine years and was named Forsyth County Teacher of the Year.
After leaving Otwell to become an administrator, Sloop spent several years at Big Creek Elementary and Little Mill and DeSana middle schools as assistant principal before being named as the new head of Silver City when former principal Paige Andrews was announced as the first principal of Poole’s Mill Elementary.
But the field of education wasn’t always part of his life plan, Sloop said.
“I actually didn’t start teaching until I was 30,” he said. “I was an environmental engineer down in Atlanta with an environmental consulting firm for the first six years of my working career.”
Though he liked being an environmental engineer, Sloop says he just knew the career wasn’t totally right for him. And in his moments of free time, he found that he had a passion for teaching, volunteering to teach at his church pre-school and working with a group of women at a shelter in Atlanta.
When Sloop turned 28 and his boss at the consulting firm asked him, “Where do you see yourself in five years,” he says that everything clicked and he knew what he wanted to devote his life to.
“I really had to stop and think, ‘I don’t want my boss’s job, my dream is to go back and to become a teacher,’” he said. “I don’t want to say that I was wasting my time at my other job, it’s just at that point it became clear that I needed to be doing what I loved doing, and that was working with kids and being a teacher.”
For two years, Sloop says he worked during the day and went to night school at North Georgia College and State University.
After getting his teaching certificate in 2002, he came to a Forsyth County school job fair at South Forsyth High School and immediately hit it off with the staff at Otwell.
“Somebody from Otwell Middle School met me basically at the door,” he said. “They were looking for a science teacher and they said come meet the staff. Terri North was the principal, and that was the only interview I went on, and that was the job I got.”
Fast forward about 17 years to 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 1, and Sloop is striding through the halls of Silver City, helping students find their classes as he hurries to get on camera for the school’s daily news broadcast.
After the morning announcements, Sloop is back to the car line, ushering in the last few stragglers before locking the front doors and heading out to visit classrooms with assistant principals Vicki Sipsy and Deborah Carnes.
Over the next hour and a half, the administrators visit every classroom in the school, interrupting for just a few minutes at each to introduce themselves.
“How are we doing this morning?” Sloop asks a classroom filled with new fifth-graders. “Can you believe you are fifth-graders? You are the big dawgs now, so y’all are going to teach everybody else about being responsible, respectful and having integrity, right?”
For his first year at the school, Sloop said that the process of relationship building with his community is going to be one of his main goals. Greeting students and parents as they come to school, and visiting classrooms and activity areas throughout the day, are vital parts of that, he said.
“I think them seeing me out and about and knowing my name and seeing me on the morning news just helps and supports that mission of building relationships,” he said. “This year, I’m going to do a lot of listening, a lot of learning to see what our staff wants, what our community wants and what’s going to be best for our students.”
The rest of Sloop’s day was a whirlwind of activity, he said. He helped students in the lunchroom, assisted teachers with getting supplies and eventually made sure that every student got to the bus or vehicle that they needed to be in.
“Transportation was fantastic,” he said. “Everybody kind of worked together as a team throughout the district just to get our kids to the right places in the afternoon, so it went really well.”
And at the end of the day, Sloop said that as exhausting as the day was, it felt like a homecoming to come back to the north end of the county. He said that he was happy to be back into the “North Synergy Team” that he worked with during his years at Little Mill.
“It’s been very nice to come back and work with some of those same administrators and same groups of teachers and community members,” he said. “It takes a big team to think of all the details and pull off all the little things, and everybody played their part … So I was very proud of our staff, they did a great job.”