Olmsted retires from Pitt County Schools
By Amber Revels-Stocks
Monday, October 8, 2018
Pitt County Schools assistant superintendent of educational programs and services Cheryl Olmsted has retired. She has spent more than 20 years as an educator.
“I started as a teacher in 1991 in Rockingham County near Greensboro,” Olmsted said. “I started (in Pitt County Schools) in Bethel in 1995. I taught seventh-grade math, eighth-grade algebra and physical science.”
Olmsted previously worked as an engineer, but wanted to spend more time with her son after he was born. While at N.C. State University, she majored in math and minored in science, which made her a perfect fit to teach those subjects.
A classmate at N.C. State University helped Olmsted figure out her love of math.
“I was in engineering at N.C. State, and I was doing a group project. We got it all figured out, and some kid in the group said, ‘Let’s change this and see what happens,’” Olmsted said. “I got mad and said, ‘We already did the whole project. I don’t want to do it again.’ He looked at me, and he said, ‘If you hate this, why are you majoring in this?’”
Olmsted went to her adviser to tell him about the interaction. The adviser asked her what homework she did first.
“I said math, and he said, ‘That’s because you love it. That’s what you should major in,’” she said. “It changed my whole trajectory of where I wanted to go.”
In 2000, Olmsted headed to Edgecombe County, where she served as an assistant principal for three years. She spent another three years as a principal before returning to Pitt County Schools. Olmsted served as principal at W.H. Robinson and Ridgewood elementary schools before becoming the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. She has been at the central office for eight years.
If she could do it all over again, Olmsted would stop and appreciate everything more.
“I’m very pleased with the career that I’ve had, but I would’ve enjoyed the journey more,” she said. “Looking back on it, I enjoyed teaching, but I think I would’ve been more patient with myself and my movement. I taught for nine years, which is a good solid time to teach, but when I was an assistant principal, I only did it for three years. I would have done that longer.”
Olmsted said she loved being a principal, and it would have never happened without some advice from a professor.
“When I decided to get my master’s degree, I took two classes: one in mathematics and one on administration. I was looking to see which way I wanted to go,” Olmsted said. “I said, ‘I really want a career where I can have the biggest impact with other teachers.’ And he said to me, ‘Then you should go into administration because that’s where you’ll have the greatest impact.’”
Her love of teachers led into her love of being a principal.
“My favorite job was being a principal,” Olmsted said. “As a principal, you’re not too far from the kids and you can see the results of your work fairly quickly. Yet you still have a huge impact because you’re the leader of the school.”
As an assistant superintendent, she implements changes that might not come to fruition for years.
“I would say I would miss having an impact the most, but sometimes, my impact is so far in advance of the results. I’m not sure I’ll miss that because (I’ll see my impact) for a while,” she said. “I will miss the people for sure. We have a great group of people I work with, for sure.”
The speed of change has been the biggest change over the years.
“When I first came into teaching, you would create a plan and would implement it for years,” Olmsted said. “Now, with technology changing as fast as it does, movement of kids as much as they go, change in itself is just rapid. How do you implement change on a constant basis without killing your people and your kids?”
When Olmsted began teaching, she did not have to give state exams.
“I remember when the first state test was given at the high school level, and when we looked at the scores, we didn’t really know what we were looking at,” she said. “Now, we have huge amounts of resources connected to standardized tests. … It’ll change in a few more years because we’ll have a whole different set of technology.”
What has not changed is that most people do the best they can.
“I have learned that most people do the best they can and that they know how to do. That’s parents. That’s students. That’s teachers. That’s administrators,” Olmsted said. “If you want a different behavior or result, then you have to teach it differently. You have to teach them that, in all respects.
“Most people give you their best in most cases, especially when it comes to kids.”
That is part of why Olmsted wants to see more technical and career-ready training in the district.
“We’re already headed that way, but I would like to see faster movement toward job readiness,” Olmstead said. “I would like to see us continue at a more focused pace if possible.
“We’re starting to move that way where we think of what we do in education as preparing kids for careers and jobs, and I would like to see that continue,” she said. “There’s so many jobs out there that can’t get filled because we haven’t focused in on them. We still have this stigma where we think everybody needs to go to a four-year college, and we don’t have people to do these things that make a lot of money.”
Olmsted added, “You don’t have to go for a four-year degree. It’s okay not to go to a four-year college.” She felt reducing the stigma of community colleges and trade schools would help students do their best. “We should at least let them know these jobs are there,” she said.
Olmsted decided to retire because she wanted her ‘60s to be about her family.
“I want to travel with my husband,” she said. They bought a recreational vehicle and plan on spending time traveling the country.
“We plan on spending a month at a time, spread out, and tour a state,” Olmstead said.
Olmsted’s commitment to her job and her tireless work ethic would be missed, said Superintendent Dr. Ethan Lenker.
“Cheryl was someone that I quickly learned I could count on to get the job done,” he said.
Steve Lassiter replaces Olmsted. He earned his master’s in school administration and bachelor’s in elementary education from East Carolina University. He is pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership from N.C. State University.
Lassiter has spent 13 years in education, 10 of which were with Pitt County Schools. He came to the district from Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, where he was the assistant superintendent of human resources and auxiliary services.
Olmsted had one piece of advice for Lassiter: “Always make your decisions based on what’s best for the kids. Don’t do what’s best for politics or what’s best for test scores. Always do what’s best for kids.”