After 30 years of service to the North Carolina school system, and 23 years of dedication to Macon County, Pam Collins, Macon County School’s Community Coordinator, is set to retire at the end of the month. “It has been absolutely wonderful being able to finish out my career as Community Schools Coordinator for Macon County,” said Collins.
Gary Shields, member of the board of education and former Franklin High School principal, has worked closely with Collins during the majority of her 23 years in Macon County and has admired her diligence and dedication to the students. “As a principal of Franklin High School, I realized quickly that Pam has a gift for the more challenged students,” said Shields. “Her ability to connect with them and get them to reach their highest potential was unlike anything I had ever seen. As a board member, I have seen her take that same gift and apply it to the entire school system. She is a cheerleader for our school system. We hope the best for her in her retirement, but will definitely miss all that she has done for the children in Macon County.”
Collins was born and raised in southwest Virginia in a small town called Hillsville. In 1979, she graduated from Radford College, now Radford University, with a Bachelors degree in communication disorders. Shortly after graduating, Collins moved to North Carolina to begin her career with the NC Public School System in Harnett County working as a speech language pathologist, where she remained until 1987.
“While working in Harnett County, I worked in a self-contained special education classroom where every Friday we would do the hokey pokey,” remembered Collins. “I remember one day holding hands with one student who had Down Syndrome and another who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, it has been almost 30 years since that day but I can still remember the smiles on their faces and remember feeling their hands in mind, and that is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Collins met her husband, Mayor Joe Collins, while he was attending law school at Campbell University. After Mayor Collins graduated from Campbell, the couple first moved to Albemarle, N.C., before relocating back to Mayor Collins’ hometown of Franklin.
When Collins first began working for the Macon County school district, she served as a speech pathologist, but has since served in various capacities and has been an asset for the children of Macon County. “I began as a speech language pathologist when I first moved to Macon County,” said Collins. “I worked at Cartoogechaye, Highlands, Union (South Macon), Iotla, Macon Middle, Franklin High School and had 100 students on my caseload.”
Through the different capacities in which Collins has served, she has been fortunate in having countless memories that she will forever be grateful for. “One thing that I won't ever forget is that when I first came to Macon County and began working at Iotla, I worked in a speech bus,” remembered Collins. “When the bus was no longer drivable it was parked at Iotla and it became my classroom. There wasn't any heat and in the winter months you could see your breath, but it was my classroom and I was thankful to have it.”
Another rewarding aspect of being a speech pathologist for Collins has been having former students come to her after graduation and tell her that she inspired them. “Several students have come to me and told me that they are pursuing a career in speech pathology because of me,” she said. “There are no words to explain the feeling that gives me, to know that I made a difference and had an impact on their lives.”
Aside from being a speech pathologist, Collins also taught resource at Macon Middle School for two years before taking a leave of absence to stay at home after her daughter Sara was born. Collins also worked with the Gear-Up Program for two and half years at Macon Middle before moving to Franklin High School where she taught a self-contained special education class for four and a half years.
“Gear-Up was a great experience for me because I helped plant a seed in the students’ minds,” said Collins. “I was able to help them start thinking and planning for their future.”
According to Collins one memory that she will always cherish above any other came in 2008 while working at Franklin High School. “I will never forget on graduation day when my student, Fletcher Myers walked across the stage and received his diploma. Every single graduating senior stood up and applauded for him,” remembered Collins. “The look on his face was unexplainable. He was voted ‘Most Unforgettable’ for senior superlatives and it certainly stands true to me, he will always have a special place in my heart.”
Collins was also instrumental in developing the county’s New Century Scholars program and believes that program will be the one she will miss the most.“I have enjoyed all the different aspects of this job but I have truly cherished being a part of the New Century Scholars,” said Collins. “I will miss the NCS kids the most!”
Since her daughter Sara is still a student at Franklin High School, Collins plans to stay active in school events but says it won’t compare to the experiences she has had over the course of her career. “I loved being about to work at the high school and plan to continue to do so,”she said. “I loved being a part of the student body, planning pep rallies and sporting events, car washes and just being in the middle of it all.”
Since the inception of Collins’ career nearly 30 years ago, the field of education has changed dramatically. She has always been able to adapt to the changing environment and diligently worked to better herself for the betterment of the children she worked with. “The biggest change that I have experienced since the beginning of my career is the technology that is used in the schools today,” said Collins. “I hand wrote IEP’s for all of my students when I started in 1979 which would consist of 10 hand written pages. Now it is all on-line to fill out.”
Although it is still uncertain who will replace Collins, the advice she has for her successor is simply to love children, something Collins has lived out each day over the last 30 years. “My advice for my replacement would be that you have to be a multi-task person, enjoy being out in the public, and have a true love for children,” she said.
With Collins’ official day of retirement only a few weeks away (Dec. 21), she has already begun planning how to spend her first few days. “I plan to go home to purge, clean and paint my house,” said Collins. “After that I will go out and work in the yard. Most important is being able to focus on my family. My daughter Sara has three and half years left of school and I want to be there for her in the mornings, afternoons and nights. This job has been extremely gratifying but has taken a lot of my family time to do it the way it should be done. I also plan to spend as much as I can at the beach!”
According to Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, he is unsure if someone will be hired to replace Collins, and if the school system does search for a replacement, there will be some pretty big shoes to fill. “Mrs. Collins has done a tremendous job for the faculty, staff, students and entire school system. She clearly has a passion and dedication for students and she will truly be missed,” said Brigman. “We wish her and her family the very best as they enter the next chapter of their lives.”