Edgecombe County teachers wear different colored shirts at the district’s annual convocation Tuesday at Tarboro High School.

TARBORO — The Edgecombe County school year kicked off Tuesday morning with the school district’s annual convocation in the Tarboro High School gymnasium.

Teachers at the district’s 14 schools dressed in different colored shirts, each trying to show more spirit than the others as they heard from a variety of speakers, including school board chairwoman Evelyn Wilson, Superintendent Valerie Bridges, ECPS Beginning Teacher of the Year Antwan Brown and N.C. Principal of the Year Matt Smith.

The crowd also sang “Happy Birthday” to retired Superintendent Lee Hall in recognition of his 90th birthday earlier this month. Hall was presented with a birthday cake as the Beatles’ “Birthday” was played over the sound system.

The highlight of the morning was the recognition of the 2019-20 Teacher of the Year, Leigh Ann Webb of Edgecombe Early College High School. Also recognized were campus teachers of the year.

The theme of Bridges’ address was “What’s Your Superpower?” She challenged the gym full of teachers to find their particular superpower and use it to motivate and excite the students under them.

Smith challenged them a step further, telling them to open up about themselves so that their students will understand teachers are human.

“Let them know you have a dog,” he said. “Talk with them and listen to them so that they know you are listening and truly care about what they say. If you do that, you will connect with them and make an impact.”

Earlier, Bridges said she had finished her sophomore year as superintendent and “am now a junior … an upperclassman.”

She recounted the results of how ECPS schools had ranked thus far:

Year 1: Prior to her arrival, six schools met or exceeded state goals and eight did not, which earned the district a low-performing designation. Of the six schools, three exceeded and three met goals.

Year 2: After her first year, 11 schools met or exceeded and three did not. The low-performing moniker was removed. Of the 11 schools, four exceeded and seven met goals.

Year 3: After 2018-19, 11 schools met or exceeded and three did not. Of the 11, six exceeded and five met.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” she told the group. “We’re moving schools, we’re moving students and we’re getting results in eastern North Carolina.”

Bridges reminded her teachers to “revisit every decision you make” and that “all of our students are important … each and every one of them.”

Later, teachers were reminded to learn the names of their students.

“Don’t give them a nickname because you can’t pronounce their name … learn how to pronounce their names and call them by their names … connect with them,” she said.

Smith admonished the teachers to “(r)emember, not a single thing we do is about us. Everything is about the kids.”

He said that despite news stories over the past few months that students may not trust institutions, and that schools are an institution, “ ... they trust you.”

“There will be a child in your classroom who needs you, and it’s up to us to find out who they are,” Smith said.

The first day of school for Edgecombe County’s nearly 6,000 students is Monday.