Riggins 'blessed by the opportunity' to serve schools
by Emily McLain
SYLACAUGA – She wanted no retirement party, no front page story, as little recognition as possible before her June 28 departure. Because in her eyes, she is not the one who deserves it.

“I feel like I have been a servant to the system,” Superintendent Renee Riggins said, “but when I look at the people who are doing things, like teachers in the classroom with those students every day and how much they impact their lives, they have made my job so much easier. The administrators, the transportation department, everybody has done their job so well that I think they need the recognition and not me.”

However, Riggins’ contributions to Sylacauga City Schools during the last 29 years are something worth mentioning. Superintendent since 2009 and assistant superintendent for five years prior, her leadership carried the system through obstacles including proration, major construction projects and a rigorous re-accreditation process.

“I don’t know that anybody else could have faced these issues – proration, personnel problems, big construction projects – and still maintained our scores and kept a stable financial situation,” said Board of Education President Jennie McGhee. “She always had a positive outlook on things, and I think what kept her focused through it all is a love for those children. Whatever she did was with the children’s best interest at heart.”

Riggins got her start in 1977 as a substitute at the former East Highland School, and after a few years off to care for her young children, returned in 1983 as a substitute at the former Mountainview School. The next year, she was given the opportunity to teach sixth grade at Mountainview, which she did until 1999. During the following years, Riggins was acting and interim principal and then principal at Mountainview. In 2003, she moved to the Central Office as an administrative assistant and eventually landed the system’s top job.

Though Riggins said teaching would always be her heart, she has enjoyed the opportunities afforded by being an administrator. “I felt like I could still have an impact on students’ achievement and success as an administrator, and that was important to me, so this position helped me make more and bigger decisions that would have a positive effect on instruction and children’s lives,” she said.

She credits Lynn Hodges, who was principal at Mountainview at the time Riggins was assistant principal, for encouraging her to enter administration and seeing leadership skills in her she did not know were there. Hodges said Riggins has excelled at forming a unified vision for the system and helping teachers work toward the same goals, something Riggins did throughout her career.

“At Mountainview, she was a team leader for a group of sixth-grade teachers, and she was excellent at that,” Hodges said. “She was a fantastic classroom teacher, but just had the knack for bringing teachers together and forming a cohesive team, so I was thrilled when she decided later to get her administrative certification. She is just a very, very special person.”

Riggins said she “enjoyed investing my life in this system and was blessed by the opportunity,” but somehow knew it was time to move on. After retirement, she is looking forward to reading “a real book,” traveling with her husband of 37 years, Cedric Riggins, and visiting her mother, two daughters and her granddaughters, Zoie, 3, and Kennedy, 9. She also plans to stay involved with children through some type of community service and finish earning her doctorate.

McGhee said Riggins can leave with the peace of mind that incoming superintendent, Michael Freeman, will carry forth shared ideals.

“I hope she gets plenty of rest (after retirement), and I feel like she will, because she wanted to leave the position in good hands, and I think she is so comfortable with Dr. Freeman, she can retire in peace,” McGhee said. “She passed the torch to a person she knows is just as interested in the school system as she is.”

Riggins said she hopes the schools uphold the “high-quality instruction we are known for” in the years to come. And when asked what she hopes people remember about her, Riggins answers without a beat.

“That I was fair,” she said. “That I loved people, I loved students, that I cared, and that’s the most important thing – that I cared. And, in all the positions I held, that I tried to do the best I could and gave 100-plus percent of myself. I hope they can see that I tried and I cared.”

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013