For the past three decades, Lisa Perry has called the Dawson County school system her home.
A Dawson County native who spent her childhood attending school in the county and graduating from Dawson County High School, Perry was ready to return to her community to teach.
Now having served as a teacher, assistant principal and the chief human resources officer for the school system, Perry is reflecting on her career as she looks ahead to retirement in July.
Perry began her teaching career at Forsyth Central High School, but when the opportunity opened up that allowed Perry to return to Dawson County High School to teach science, she was eager to return home.
“As a teacher I wanted my students to love science as much as I did,” Perry said.
For 13 years, Perry said she’d taught just about every science, except for physics. From freshman to senior and remedial to AP, Perry taught it all – chemistry, life sciences and later health and anatomy.
It wasn’t always easy to get her students excited about science though, she said.
Students especially got bogged down and bored learning biology at the cellular level, but Perry’s enthusiasm and passion for the mitochondria was enough for one student to notice, she recalled.
“One of my students stopped me mid-sentence and I was like ‘what?’ He said ‘you really like this stuff, don’t you?’ and I said ‘yes I love it, and I want you to love it,’” Perry said, smiling.
For Perry, making learning fun and finding ways to make the information stick was the best part of the job.
And when she began teaching the human anatomy class, a completely new program for the high school, Perry definitely had to think outside the box to teach a class with no textbooks.
For two years, Perry taught human anatomy without a textbook or materials. She pulled resources from her old college materials as well as from the World Wide Web on her colorful iMac computer.
It wasn’t enough to pull information, though. Perry wanted to get her students hands on with the information and enlisted the help of the art teacher to make it happen.
Perry drove down to the pottery store and loaded her trunk with bags and bags of clay for her students.
“Their project was each group had a set of bones and they made their own skulls and their own bones,” Perry said.
Of course, each bone crafted out of clay had to be anatomically correct with all of the important features included.
“I made a deal with the art teacher that if they made these skulls and these bones and these different things for the skeletal system … the deal was he would put them in the kiln and fire them for me,” Perry said.
The students were allowed to keep their clay bones as souvenirs which still lead to memorable conversations years later.
“I went to Lumpkin County to help interview their Teacher of the Year candidates to select their system winner and this young lady came in and she said ‘Ms. Perry… I still have my skull,’” Perry said. “I just burst out laughing because nobody else in that community got it but I knew what she was talking about.”
Perry was also very excited to implement new technology in her classes, doing anything that would make science more interactive and engaging for her students. She brought in a microscope that would project the slides on the TV and she wrote a grant in order to get the first portable smart board for the high school.
“I worked really hard as a teacher during that time period, but it was fun,” Perry said. “It was worth it and the kids enjoyed it.”
Perry then spent four years as the Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction at the high school where she worked closely with the counselors, student scheduling and the graduation test prior to the creation of the graduation coach position.
During her time as an assistant principal, the school system saw a move toward becoming a professional learning community and Perry was tasked with helping to lead professional development opportunities at the high school.
For the last 13 years, Perry has served as the Chief Human Resources Officer for Dawson County Schools where she has helped implement new teacher evaluation instruments and a mentor program for first year teachers. She also makes sure all teachers’ certifications are up to date and provides help to faculty and staff that want to further their education or obtain more certifications.
“I see my role as everybody’s helper,” Perry said. “I’ve always truly, truly believed in a servant style leadership and I really hope that that’s way the others have seen me, is just somebody that’s here to try to help.”
Sometimes, Perry said, she hears from her former students that have been inspired to switch career paths and pursue teaching.
“That’s something I do really enjoy, is when people call me from some other field who want to change careers,” Perry said. “I can advise them of the procedures, the steps, the things they’re going to have to go through to become a teacher, and that’s been pretty neat.”
Looking back on her career, Perry said the best moments have been the “times when you realize that you’ve been a positive influence, whether it’s been a student or a staff member.”
Perry will be retiring this summer after helping current director of exceptional children Hershel Bennett transition into his new role of assistant superintendent of human resources and operations for the 2019-20 school year.