Family and education, these are the things that Sawnee Elementary School Principal Eileen Nix has spent the last 40 years cultivating and advancing in the Forsyth County community.
Once one of the first students to attend Sawnee, when the school opened in 1968, today Nix is Sawnee’s longest-serving principal, with 39 total years as a principal, assistant principal and teacher at the school.
But as Sawnee celebrates half a century educating students, Nix will pass on the reins to another at the end of this school year and close the Sawnee chapter of her life.
"This makes year 40 [for me] and it's our 50th year with Sawnee, so it just seemed to be the time," Nix said in an interview with the Forsyth County News. "I'd been thinking about it for a while, but last year I kind of pretty much knew that this would be it, but I wanted to be here for the 50 year celebration and go through this year."
And Nix’s desire to see the school through such a huge milestone is a reasonable one, considering that she has dedicated her whole life to the school and educating its students.
"I just feel very blessed to have been able to be on the track that I have, from being a student, to a teacher, to an assistant principal, to being principal,” she said. “It's just been such a fulfilling career. I just feel really blessed to have been here and be a part of everything that has happened with Sawnee."
Nix always wanted to work in education, she said, and she always wanted to do it in Forsyth County. She graduated from Forsyth County High School and then went to North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia). Her first teaching job was at Midway Elementary, but the next year she got a sixth-grade teaching position at Sawnee, where her mother, Clara Mae Cox, had taught for several years before retiring.
"Forsyth County was the only place that I wanted to be, because that was home,” Nix said. “That was just where I wanted to be."
The Sawnee family tradition continued when Nix’s two daughters went through the school. Then their children went through after them.
Throughout her time educating in the county, Nix believes that the culture of family that she and her staff have been able to instill in the school is one of their greatest accomplishments, overcoming the obstacles thrown at them by a rapidly changing county and school system.
"While we're large, we are still a family, and we try to take care of the kids, their emotional and physical needs," she said. "Here we have kids whose parents actually came to Sawnee as students … Some of the teachers here, I actually taught when they were going through school. So it's just really neat to see families come in and grandchildren.”
To accomplish this culture of family at the school, Nix said that they have sought out teachers and staff that embody their family attitude, making everything else come easy.
“I hire good staff. I have just a fabulous group of people, teachers who I work with, other administrators and they just all have that caring manner about them," she said. "You just hire good people around you and then everything falls into place."
In late 2018, the school system announced Nix would be replaced by Derrick Hershey, current principal of Shiloh Point Elementary School, who like Nix lives in the Sawnee community and has two kids who attend the school.
"They've made a really great choice; Mr. Hershey is really awesome," she said.
In the end, the family culture that they have built at Sawnee is what Nix said she’ll miss most about being principal at the school, along with the daily interactions with her kids, their families and her staff.
“The people and the kids, they are what makes it fun," she said.