The mood was somber when I visited Plantersville Middle School on Monday to talk to people about their memories of Principal Bill Horton, who died at home on Friday from a heart attack.
I saw several people hugging and others had tears in their eyes as they spoke to me. The flag was at half mast and there were red, white and black ribbons on the entrance to the school and to Horton’s office. Many staff members were also wearing black, dressed for Horton’s funeral yesterday afternoon.
In today’s Daily Journal, I wrote a story about staff and students remembering Horton, who had been at Plantersville for more than seven years after being a coach at Verona. They spoke of someone who was mindful that many of his students came from poverty and yet was determined to see them succeed. They also said that he backed his teachers.
Many of the quotes that I got did not make it into today’s story because of space constraints. Here are some more of them:
• VerLena Spence
Plantersville Assistant Principal
In her third year at the school
“I’ll remember Mr. Horton as a great mentor. He reminded me of my father, all the advice he gave, both educationally, as well as personally. That is what I’ll really miss.”
• Gabrillia Pickens, 14
“He was a good principal. He cared about us, and he encouraged us to do our best in everything we did.”
“He was my favorite principal because he always motivated us. He did things to help us that other principals did not do.”
• Matthew Calise, 14
“He was a great man. Every time we did well on our tests, he gave us a reward. (Free day…field days…we’d go play and watch movies)
• Chevelle Champ Vasser
8th grade inclusion teacher and behavior specialist (Also cheer coach)
(She has known him for about 10 years…they were at Verona together when he was still coaching…she started as an assistant teacher….When she was certified, he asked me to come here…he also knew she liked working with older students)
“He was firm. He was really serious about how school business was run. All in all, his heart was about kids. He made sure we had everything we needed to serve kids.
There are a lot of kids at this school from low-income houses. He told us to be mindful of the way we talked to them and the things we said about kids. He reminded us you didn’t know where they came from and what we said may change their lives.
He had a military style. Everything was firm.
It made me grow as a teacher. I could take constructive criticism from him and still feel good as a teacher and know it was only to make me become better.
(on the atmosphere at school on Monday)
They are sad in the sense it was all of a sudden. Everyone feels like we should go on and do what he wants us to do. He’d want us to come to school and make sure these students learn the things they need to learn. We are going to strive to better better the school and be the kind of school he left us with.
Monday was his last faculty meeting. He told us, ‘Lets throw the traditional ways of teaching out and lets find the strategies these kids need for Common Core. We need to find a way to reach these kids.”
He was a good man and a great principal.
• Laura Lee
(Been at Veronae whole time since Horton was there)
He was a wonderful principal who cared so much for his teachers and the students here. He always put the school and its needs first. He’ll be so missed.
He knew these kids and he knew where these kids were coming from.
It was really nice of Central Office to provide counselors and staff. We have so many people to help us out.
“We’re numb. So many of us are still in shock because it was unexpected.”
• Debra McCly
“He lived here. He’d come in on weekends. He’d stay late at night. This was his life.”
“He used any means necessary to motivate students. Seldom would he speak about our school or our students without tearing up.”
“That saying we are a ship without a captain, that is what it feels like.”
“I’ll miss how fired up he got. He was very passionate.”
• Kristi Massey
“He believed in us 100 percent. He backed us up. If he knew what you were doing was right and in the best interest of students, he’d do what he could to make it happen.”
“He had our backs”
“It was good working for someone you knew would support you.”
“Last year, I had student who wanted to run for student council but he couldn’t afford the $5 a month fee. I asked him if it was OK for me to pay it. He said me and you will split it.”
“He cared. He wanted to see students be successful.”
(on returning today)
“It helps being around other teachers.
It is almost surreal. It is like we are here but it is not happening.”
“I’m going to miss him. I don’t think it will ever be the same.”
“I’ll miss him being our cheerleader. Even when our scores were not as good as they could be, he was proud of us because he knew what we did and he believed in us.
He told me he didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
“He stayed in touch with several kids way after they left here. He would talk about a student who was in trouble here and is now an A and B student. He enjoyed hearing things like that.”
• Johnny Green
Lee County superintendent from 2000 to 07
He’ll serve as interim principal for the short-term. Current Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said he is unsure what the long-term plan will be.
“First got to know (Horton) when he was superintendent and Bill was coach at Verona…asked him to become and assistant principal at Plantersville under Kenneth Jones…gave him his start as an administrator
We needed to groom someone.
“I worked with him closely when I was superintendent. Also worked with him as director of maintenance and facilities.”
“He was from a military background but he was serious about education. He wanted the very best for his students and staff and did everything he could to see they had what they needed.”
(what he saw in him to make him an administrator)
“Verona was a junior high then. Being the coach, he had a lot of interaction with a lot of students. That led to him having rapport with them, especially if discipline issues came up. He had a lot of attributes, such as being firm and being able to handle issues and realizing kids have different backgrounds.”
(what will he do in running the school)
“Bill had everything in excellent shape.
The routine is set. We’re just going to maintain what he had going on and make it as easy on staff, students and parents as we can.”
“He supported his staff, supported his kids and was well thought of and respected.”
• Dan Rupert
Plantersville Middle Counselor
(Rupert and counselors from other nearby schools were available to staff and students who needed support on Monday).
“We decided best thing we could do was to go to each classroom and talk to children and let them know what happened. The majority of kids knew because the school called everyone on Friday to give them a couple of days to deal with the news.
I told the kids Mr. Horton put his very life and everything he had, he put into this school. He did his best to make sure these teachers had the best to help students through the educational process. He wanted them to be the best they could and learn what they could learn. ”
“We let them know if they needed to talk to someone, they could talk to us and we would be there for them.”
“I asked each class if they would allow me to pray for them and Mr. Horton. They said yes and we had a brief prayer and they appreciated that. We dealt with kids, several in the library and teachers’ lounge and several places around campus.”
“Mr. Horton was a great guy to work for.”
“He was a really good administrator. One of the best I’ve ever seen.”
• Joan Stiles
6th grade math teacher
“One memory is every faculty meeting, Mr. Horton would say I know I have the best, hardest working staff in Lee County. I know a lot of principals feel that way, but he would tell us every time.
He understood the challenges we dealt with and was behind us every time.
His students came first and the school came first every time.”
“There were very few conversations about anything other than improving the school.”
“I knew he gave everything he had to try to make our school a better school.”
“Anything he felt like would truly benefit the students, he wanted to do his very best to make it happen.”
(on returning to school)
“We had to come back together. We had a lot of tears shed this morning, students grabbed hold of each other and embraced and let it all out.
Conselors were really good to talk to them and let them know it was OK to cry and be sad.
We’ll miss Mr. Horton”
“One student, a tough guy, broke into tears and said Mr. Horton kept me out of trouble and I can’t believe he won’t be here. It is hard seeing those tough guys be emotional.”
“He was kind and supported his staff and would do anything to help us help kids.”
• Gabrillia Pickens and fellow student Matthew Calise remembered a story Horton had recently told the student body.
In it, Horton was coaching a youth league baseball team in the championship game. Horton’s team was down to its final out, but he brought in a batter who was physically handicapped but who had always wanted to play baseball.
The team lost the game, Horton had said, and the player died the next day. The students said Horton began to cry as he finished the story by telling them, ‘We knew we gave him his dream before he died.’”
“That was how he felt about life,” eighth-grade inclusion teacher Chevelle Champ Vasser said of Horton.