Anne Meredith sat at her desk signing her signature on 292 diplomas for the soon-to-be graduates at Cleveland High School.
“Thank-you cards” from students and staff lay on her desk.
This will be her last time signing diplomas. Meredith, the only principal this school has known, will retire June 30 after six years at the helm. She has served as an employee of Johnston County Schools for 31 years in all, 10 as a principal.
Meredith said she’s tired from working and is excited about retirement.
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But the last few days of school have been bitter-sweet, she said.
“Because things kind of sink in,” Meredith said. “The end of the school year can be very sweet and sad, because you bring one thing to the end and start something new.
“Except I’m not starting something new.”
Meredith is quiet and soft-spoken. But she likes to joke. A sign on her cabinet says “sense of humor required beyond this point.”
Whenever she walks by a faculty member, they talk for a little while and share in a laugh.
“I’m sad,” John Wood, a social studies and journalism teacher, said of Meredith’s retirement. “I’m happy for her closing one chapter and going to another chapter but the things we have been able to accomplish here have been amazing. As a teacher I am sad to see an administrator like her go, because she’s allowed this staff to become bigger, brighter, stronger, with her ability to motivate us and encourage us.”
Wood said he will miss the encouragement he received from Meredith. He said she’s given the staff the tools to carry on when she’s no longer there. Wood previously worked at Clayton High before coming to Cleveland High.
“She’s a wonder and I’m just proud to have worked with her,” Wood said.
Meredith said she’ll never forget the day Superintendent Ed Croom called her and asked her if she wanted to be the principal of the new Cleveland High School six years ago.
She previously served as the principal at Smithfield Middle School.
“I’m like, ‘yeah,’” she recalled, with a laugh. “I don’t even have to think about that. So that was a happy, happy day.”
The next summer she transitioned to principal before it was built. Meredith came over once a month for construction meetings, hired the staff and planned out what the school would become.
“I really think it was in the stars for me to be a high school principal,” Meredith said. “I knew when I got here, I would retire here. I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Cleveland High has since had some of the highest test scores in the county.
She says she doesn’t know whether she would open a new school again, but she has no regrets and wouldn’t do anything differently.
“Anne Meredith is known for her compassion for children,” said Croom. “She is very knowledgeable of high school curriculum and is knowledgeable of what it takes to made a high school work. Ms. Meredith did a phenomenal job opening a brand new school and setting it on its road to its current and future success.”
Missing the interactions
Meredith has also served as a counselor and high school director with Johnston County Schools. She used her skills as a counselor to relate to students and parents.
For instance, a student who didn’t have a fixed home needed to make up some days he missed because he couldn’t get to school. She and staff would pick the student up and now he has made up enough days and is eligible to graduate.
Meredith will provide his cap and gown as well.
“You have to be willing to understand that this kid has been through more than these other kids will go through in 10 more years, and I’m going to get that child a diploma,” she said. “Because he’s earned it. And he’s earned it under circumstances that nobody else really understands.”
Meredith said she’ll miss the interactions with students the most and seeing them grow.
“As much as they drive me crazy sometimes, they keep you young,” she said. “And it’s amazing to watch them become the young people they are going to be.”
“And I’m really going to miss seeing the staff and seeing them grow.”
This year she won the “Administrator of the Year” award by the Association of Education Office Personnel in Johnston County.
She’s proud of the accomplishments of the sports teams and the academic achievements of her students.
After her last day at work, she’ll sell her house and move down to Key West, Florida where she has bought property to soak up the sun. She will move there in July.
“It’s waiting on me,” Meredith said.