‘Where I want to be’: Local principal recognized for coveted award in face of pandemic

‘Where I want to be’: Local principal recognized for coveted award in face of pandemic

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Denise Khaalid was stunned to walk outside of Oakdale Elementary School on Thursday to find TV crews and family members cheering for her.

She got the surprise of being named South Carolina Elementary School Principal of the Year.

[WSOC SPECIAL SECTION: RETURN TO LEARNING]

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“I do believe that we go through things to prepare, and we learn from it,” Khaalid said.

Khaalid said she has learned a lot this difficult school year, which is her eighth year as Oakdale’s principal.

Khaalid is typically awake by 3 a.m. She’s a planner, but planning anything during a pandemic is a challenge.

“I’ve struggled at times. It’s hard,” she said. “I can have staff members that feel overwhelmed and stressed, and I don’t want that for anybody.”

Oakdale has about 500 students, but there have been less than 300 on campus this year.

The other students are learning virtually.

The students who are learning in person sit apart from each other, separated by Plexiglas shields. They wear masks all day.

This year has been nearly impossible to describe, the principal said.

Staff members have had to focus on education, follow health and safety guidelines, and monitor COVID-19 cases. They also must prepare for COVID-19 testing in schools while dealing with parents’ concerns.

It’s more than any principal ever imagined having to deal with.

However, it’s her steady leadership that led to the honor of elementary school principal of the year.

Khaalid said that in 2020 she is taking it day by day, which is the only way things seem to work.

“The bottom line is, we’re gonna try some stuff and we’re gonna make adjustments. Some things are gonna work. Some things are not,” she said.

Khaalid has been singled out for her leadership before. She was named assistant principal of the year one year ago at South Pointe High School.

She said that after 26 years as an educator, she is still learning and appreciates the award and recognition.

“I’m where I want to be right now. There’s no doubt about it,” she said.

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