Even though Virginia Bradshaw is leaving the Richmond County Board of Education after 33 years, they said her influence will remain.
“It’s like they say: You leave jobs but you don’t leave people,” said Garrett Elementary School Principal Doug Frierson. “Nobody left Dr. Bradshaw.”
On Thursday, about 100 colleagues celebrated the career of Bradshaw, who served as an assistant principal, the first principal of Spirit Creek Middle School and assistant superintendent of instruction, a position she held for the past 17 years.
She worked with eight superintendents and 54 board members, and mentored teachers who went on to become principals, department directors and other administrators.
One of her proudest accomplishments, she said, was opening Spirit Creek in 1989, when middle schools were a new concept. The group there went on to earn the highest educational distinction as a Georgia School of Excellence in 1994.
“The faculty and the students were challenged to make a difference in the world, not just compete in the world,” said Ronnie Harrison, who served as one of Bradshaw’s assistant principals at Spirit Creek. “Character was just as important as academics. Citizenship was just as important as grades.”
Colleagues shared memories and laughed at a presentation that featured childhood photos of Bradshaw on the Oklahoma prairie, on a pony, in a tutu and riding a tricycle. They watched a recording of board attorney Pete Fletcher and his family’s band performing songs for Bradshaw with Alvin Greenwood, a custodian, singing The Temptations’ My Girl.
Almost all had stories about projects Bradshaw planned, such as a student Olympics at Spirit Creek.
She gave straight answers, backed teachers in their ideas and gave advice that always seemed to work, said Collins K-8 Principal Thomas Norris, who worked under Bradshaw at Spirit Creek.
There was an enthusiasm at that school that was hard to re-create anywhere else, Norris said, remembering Bradshaw’s attending Spirit Creek’s Silver Championship football game against Sego Middle School in 1994 despite a downpour that discouraged much of the crowd.
“In the middle of a hurricane, here came this little woman on the field in her coat jumping up and down,” Norris said. “We didn’t have to brag about our school; we just had that swagger.”
Bradshaw grew up in Oklahoma with a Navy pilot father and a mother who worked in insurance. She loved school and became interested in special education after watching her two cousins with disabilities and the lack of opportunities they had in the education system.
“They could have done so much more, and that’s always been a major concern and a big part of my energy,” she said.
She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Oklahoma and helped launch a special education program at an elementary school in Lawton, Okla., in 1970.
Bradshaw moved to Augusta in 1976, finished her Ph.D. and began working with Richmond County in 1980 as an assistant principal at East Augusta Middle School. She served as the system’s middle school coordinator for two years before being selected to lead Spirit Creek in 1989.
Former Superintendent Charles Larke selected Bradshaw as his assistant superintendent of instruction in 1996, which he called “the greatest gift that I gave to the school system.”
Larke said Bradshaw was a fireball despite her small, gentle frame and was often the one who resolved debates in meetings and guided people to the correct decisions.
After annual self-evaluations, Larke said he often had to persuade Bradshaw of why she deserved scores of five instead of three.
“I can tell you right now, a lot of students are better off because Ginny Bradshaw served this district,” he said.
Bradshaw said the experiences she had in the system and the educators she’s worked with have been life changing, but that it’s time to move on. In her retirement, she plans on traveling across the country to see friends and family and perhaps participating in pastoral care at local hospitals.
“I have been so blessed by the opportunities that presented themselves,” she said. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time … the whole 33 wonderful years have just been a godsend to me.”