EDITOR'S NOTE: As 2004 draws to an end, we look back at some of those whose efforts had an impact on the lives of others.
Sylvester Brown never gave up on his pupils, never settled for average and never really retired.
The former principal of Barton Chapel Elementary School accepted a challenge at a school that had pupils from some of the poorest neighborhoods. And he refused to accept that impoverished meant impossible.
With that attitude, the results were astounding.
Before he retired in May, Mr. Brown led pupils there to four consecutive years of progress as the school met every federal standard required under the No Child Left Behind law. Last month, his tireless efforts won the Augusta school a $40,560 cash award from the state, which will be used for employee bonuses.
Joretta Akpo-Sanni, who took over as principal in August, said Mr. Brown's vision inspired the entire school.
"I believe that this accomplishment was made through the sacrifices of former Principal Sylvester Brown, supportive parents, dedicated teachers and students," Ms. Akpo-Sanni said. "We have accepted an opportunity to assure that each child receive a quality education that will propel them to being a lifelong learner and a productive contributor to society."
Mr. Brown said people usually do not believe in children from underprivileged homes.
"And the children tend not to believe in themselves," he said. "But once you get a person to realize that you can do what anybody else can do ... you can accomplish great and meaningful things."
Mr. Brown began by motivating Barton Chapel teachers with the success story of educator Lorraine Monroe, who turned a New York City school plagued with violence and poor standards into a model of excellence.
He ordered the staff to read her book.
Soon, the staff was changing teaching strategies, visiting pupils' homes, recruiting community volunteers, giving away books and holding GED programs for parents. It was a process that worked.
"I think if you ask anyone, they would say there is someone in my life who talked with me and took time with me and made a difference," Mr. Brown said. "And I don't claim that for myself, I claim that is what we tried to do at Barton Chapel. Teachers and staff tried to work with individual students. And I am hoping that will continue."
Mr. Brown, 60, technically retired in May, but he did not stop helping children.
He currently oversees the Released Time programs that allow pupils from Monte Sano and John Milledge elementary schools to learn Bible stories at off-campus facilities during school hours.
"It is just fantastic. You have heard about character education, and this takes it to a higher level," he said.
He is also making a difference in the lives of adults. He teaches an adult Sunday school class, oversees a church-based home Bible study and works as curriculum coordinator at the Augusta School for Biblical Studies.
For next year, he and his wife are planning to make overseas mission trips and open a catering business.
"I am having a great time," Mr. Brown said. "I never believed that retirement means you stop working."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hometown: Seymour, Texas
Family: Wife, Mary F. Brown; four children: Ricky Mathis, 44; Sabrina Brown, 35; Tony Brown, 29; and Marlon Brown, 28; and five grandchildren
Experience: In 1968, Mr. Brown earned a bachelor's degree from Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. He then joined the Army, serving with the 142nd Transportation Company's helicopter unit in Vietnam. After his service, he got married and began his teaching career at Glenn Hills High School in Augusta. Mr. Brown earned a master's degree and an educational specialist degree from Augusta College. He was later named assistant principal at Murphey Middle School. He has served as assistant principal at Langford Middle School and as principal of Jenkins, Meadowbrook and Barton Chapel elementary schools. While at Meadowbrook, he was called to duty with the Army Reserves, serving as a chaplain's assistant during Operation Desert Storm.