Even after almost 45 years in education, Lewis Liles hasn’t slowed down. The Fs that are a part of his life have nothing to do with grades, but the rules he lives by in dealing with children.
Q: You have quite the long tenure in education with almost 45 years under your belt. You are currently the Intervention Coordinator at East Wake High. What exactly are you attempting to intervene in?
A: “From keeping students from dropping out of high school. If we can do that, it will increase our graduation rate. There are three of us at East Wake. I am an Intervention Coordinator at the School of Health and Science, and the School of Arts.”
Q: What, in your opinion, are some of the main reasons students are dropping out of high school?
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A: “I think it is mainly a literacy problem. Once a student gets behind, it can be difficult to catch up. Sometimes the family situation may not be the best. They may be responsible for looking after younger siblings. Some students have to work to help support the family. Other times, it is not an academic problem but they may get in trouble with the law.”
Q: For the most part, you have been able to teach and lead schools near your hometown. That must have been important to you?
A: “It was. I grew up here in Zebulon and wanted to teach here. I graduated from Wakelon School in 1964. We recently had our 50th class reunion. We had 25 of us show up – which is pretty good since we only had a graduating class of 50. After graduating, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill and got my teacher degree. I later went back and got my masters in school administration. I have always loved history and my first job was teaching at Cary High. I then taught one year at Zebulon High. I was two years at Fuquay-Varina High where I also worked as an assistant principal. I was lucky enough to get a job back here at home at Zebulon Elementary, where I worked as principal from about 1973-1998. I retired from the school after 30 years in education but I have always enjoyed teaching. I was a young person when I retired and teaching was always my first love so after I retired, I worked as a substitute for a while. I then worked for about two years with the United Way. I then came to East Wake High to teach history and now I am the Intervention Coordinator.”
Q: And your wife shares your love for education as well?
A: “My wife Karen taught for 30 years at Lockhart Elementary. We have been married for 37 years.”
Q: What advice would you give someone entering the education field?
A: “The rewards are personal. They mean so much more than the financial rewards. I would tell them to remember the three Fs: be fair, firm and friendly. If you do that, the rewards will come back to you.”
Q: You have sons – did they pursue the education path?
A: “We have two sons, Matthew and Logan. They graduated from East Wake High and also attended UNC-Chapel Hill like I did but they have both graduated from law school. My older son, Matthew, works for the state attorney general, Roy Cooper, and my younger son is just getting start in his law career. And I have to happily announce that I am a new grandfather.”
Q: I am sure a new grandbaby will be taking a lot of your time. What else keeps you busy when you are not assisting teenagers?
A: “I enjoy water sports. We live on Bunn Lake so I enjoy boating, skiing. I was a Scout Master for a long time and I enjoyed that. When I get a chance, I like to read and travel.”
Q: What, of all your travels, is the most memorable?
A: “The most interesting trip I took was during the second summer of my teaching. With the help of a grant from Corning Glass, a group of teachers was able to visit Europe and tour 12 countries. We got a chance to study and explore the school programs in Europe.”
Q: What country was your favorite?
A: “I would have to say Switzerland. It is just so pristine and pretty. And the people are so nice.”
Q: Have you had a chance to return?
A: “I have been back several times. When my boys were at East Wake High, we went a couple of times with the high school band.”
Q: Are you a member of any civic clubs or organizations?
A: “I am a long time member of the Lion’s Club. I am also a member of the Wake County Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. I am also a member of Zebulon Baptist Church and the Little River Historical Society.”
Q: When it comes to the history of Zebulon, what is one thing you wish people knew?
A: “Well, a lot of people who have been here a while know about the history of two of our schools but a lot of new people don’t. The history of the two schools Wakelon (currently Zebulon Town Hall site) and James E. Shepard High (currently the site of Zebulon Middle) is an interesting one. During the first years of integration of the two schools, it was peaceful. We didn’t have a lot of strife, like in other parts of the country. We came together peaceably and that is something to be proud of.”
Correspondent Dena Coward