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Dorr will retire from school system
Administrator says she still considers herself a teacher
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Linda Dorr poses near a mural at the Henry County School Board office showing Fieldale-Collinsville High School, where she began her career 40 years ago. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Taking opportunities to have an impact on children has been a common theme in the career of retiring Linda Dorr, assistant superintendent for human resources and student services for Henry County Schools.

“Why would you not take an opportunity to impact children?” said Dorr, who will retire June 30 with 40 years of service with the school division.

She still considers herself a teacher — though not necessarily in the classroom, having moved from teacher to administrative intern to assistant principal to acting principal to principal to several administrative positions in the central office. She impacted more and more students as well as teachers and other personnel along the way.

Her passion for education began to form while growing up in Martinsville, when she played school at home, portraying both student and teacher. She said her teachers in Martinsville schools, especially high school business teachers Frances Milstead and Katherine Hylton (Heldreth), inspired her with their passion, knowledge and dedication.

In particular, Milstead and Dorr’s youth director at Starling Avenue Baptist Church told her she could accomplish anything she set her mind to and to never to give up, “even when I wanted to give up on myself.”

After graduating in the first graduating class at the new Martinsville High School in 1969, she went on to earn an associate’s degree in business administration from Averett University in 1971, a bachelor’s degree in secondary education at Averett in 1973 and a master’s degree in secondary education with a minor in business administration at Virginia Tech in 1977.

Dorr was a business teacher at Fieldale-Collinsville High School from 1972-85, administrative intern at Carver High School in 1985-86, assistant principal of Bassett High School in 1986-87, acting principal of Carver High School in 1987-88 and principal of Carver Middle School from 1988-91.

Her central office positions included Chapter 1/Title 1 director for the school division from 1991-96, director of vocational education (later called career and technical education) from 1996-2007, director of secondary education (middle and high school instruction, and career and technical education) from 2007-2009, and assistant superintendent for human resources and administration from November 2009 through 2012. Her last position became assistant superintendent of human resources and student services this school year when student services and nurses were put under Dorr’s supervision.

“I’m a testament to the saying that an old dog can learn new tricks,” Dorr said after describing how she grew and learned professionally from each of those positions while gaining a bigger and bigger picture of how schools and the school division operate.

One of the things she learned from being a teacher at Fieldale-Collinsville High School, where she also was senior sponsor and cheerleading sponsor, was if a lesson wasn’t as effective or delivered as well as planned, it should be redone, she said.

As administrative intern at Carver High School, Dorr got a bigger picture of instruction and school operations, including discipline, transportation, lunchroom, supervising ball games and maintenance. She learned about a sand filter, had to “push” coal into a burner on occasion, and made sure no toilet was left running so the school would not run out of water, she said.

Having earned an endorsement in education administration, she next became assistant principal at Bassett High School, which had more students than Carver. Among her duties were discipline, scheduling teacher duties and evaluating teachers.

Dorr’s next opportunity in Henry County Schools came during a statewide movement from junior high to middle schools. She became acting principal of Carver during its last year as a high school while also planning for it to become a middle school the following year (1988-89), as would Drewry Mason.

Henry County Schools “did a fantastic job” of moving to middle schools, she said. “We did it right.” School division officials visited successful middle schools around the commonwealth, studied the developmental needs of middle school students and learned about appropriate scheduling.

As acting principal of Carver High School, she learned, among other things, about school finances in real life and the importance of keeping a school from going in the red. For instance, the football team needed new shoes that year, but gate receipts were insufficient. So Dorr came up with a creative way to pay for them, charging a sitting fee for school pictures. Also, Carver won the state boys basketball championship that year, and she learned that “It costs to win” — for such things as travel, meals and accommodations.

When Carver High School, grades 8-12, became Carver Middle School, grades 6-8, parents had such concerns as, Would their children be safe? Who would their teachers be, and how many teachers would they have? Dorr said. She remembers nervously walking into the school auditorium at the open house and speaking to a standing-room-only crowd to help allay their concerns.

The theme for the middle school that year was “Soaring High,” and school officials arranged for Martinsville businessman Dick Simmons to fly his hot-air balloon over the school the first day of classes as each student released a balloon. One sixth-grade student was concerned that his balloon would travel all the way to the coast, get into the ocean and be fatally swallowed by a whale. School officials used that concern as an opportunity to have a science lesson for the boy’s class.

Dorr also recalled annual trips to Wallops Island research center on the Eastern Shore by Carver Middle School eighth-graders. They stayed in barracks on a former naval base. The children learned about marine life and habitats in that area and got a chance to see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Hands-on learning helps students learn better and retain more than books-only learning, Dorr pointed out. “It becomes real life for students.”

“I looked forward to that (trip) every year,” she said.

After three years as principal at Carver Middle School, Dorr became the school division’s director of Chapter I, now called Title I, a federal program for reading and math for high-poverty schools.

“I’ve had huge learning curves for 40 years,” Dorr said with a laugh, referring to her learning the regulations and the best strategies to do each job she has had. “I’m going to give you 150 percent.”

After five years as Chapter I/Title I director, the former business teacher became the division’s director of vocational education, now called career and technical education (CTE). In that position, she saw a transition from a focus on training vocational students to enter the work force after high school to providing training that can benefit all students so they will be both career-ready and college-ready, whichever route they choose to go.

Among the achievements in vocational education/CTE under her watch were offering industry certifications and fire and rescue training in high schools, and establishing a local National Technical Honor Society. Also the school division partnered with Patrick Henry Community College and New College Institute to increase opportunities for students. For example, an agreement was reached whereby juniors and seniors could enroll in dual enrollment courses, working toward an associate degree at PHCC.

Dorr served as treasurer, president-elect and president of the Virginia Association of Career and Technical Education Administrators.

Human resources is a big part of her current position. Henry County Schools, with nearly 1,150 employees, is the largest employer in the county.

“I don’t have to say this. I’m leaving. Henry County Public Schools is great place to work,” she said.

“This has truly been a positive journey, and I can say I have enjoyed every opportunity for service that I have been given,” Dorr wrote in a letter to schools Superintendent Jared Cotton and the county school board announcing her retirement. “I hope I have made a difference for the students, teachers, staff, parents and community in which I have served.”

During retirement, Dorr, 62, and her husband, Richard Dorr, who is retiring as a teacher, plan to travel.

Linda Dorr said she plans to spend time with their son David’s family and go to some of her 2-year-old grandson Owen’s preschool programs. She also plans to remain involved in her many church (Martinsville First Baptist) and community activities and volunteer.

Henry County Deputy Administrator Dale Wagoner praised Dorr’s love for students and passion about her profession. As a student at Bassett High School, he was involved with Dorr through the gifted and talented program.


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