Scroggs calls it a day
by Susan Dickson
When Steve Scroggs began his first day as assistant superintendent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, he sat outside his office and cried. After nearly 30 years working directly with children, Scroggs had made the transition to school administration, and found himself a little lonely.
“It was the first time there wasn’t a child to say, ‘Good morning, Mr. Scroggs,’” he said. He got through the day by going to the nearby pre-kindergarten to find a child to give him a hug and say good morning.
Scroggs has spent the past eight years serving as assistant superintendent for support services for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the past 35 years working in North Carolina public schools. This Friday, Scroggs will step down from his post to retire, and he will surely be missed.
“He loves people, he loves kids, and to me he’s probably the most gifted person, the most talented person I’ve ever worked with,” Superintendent Neil Pedersen said.
Scroggs enthusiasm for education, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in particular, is undeniable. Each day, donning a bowtie and a smile, he’s led the district through a period of massive growth, overseeing the construction of five schools over eight years.
He’s worked late into the night on redistricting maps, transportation plans and school sites.
Scroggs is emotional when he talks about his work in education.
“I’ve had a good run,” he said. “I tell people, not jokingly, I’m a pretty good assistant superintendent and I was a hell of a principal.”
He knew early on that he wanted to go into education, deciding as a high school student that he wanted to be a teacher.
Education runs in Scroggs’ family. His mother was long-time Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools school board member Mary Scroggs, for whom Mary Scroggs Elementary is named.
“Education was king in our house,” he said. Scroggs’ mother is known for her work toward desegregation as well as for the construction of several schools at a time when schools were extremely overcrowded.
Scroggs got his start in education as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Mauritania.
“I honestly think the Peace Corps set me up beautifully in my career,” he said, adding that his experience taught him that he didn’t need materials to teach.
“What matters is what you’ve done to make kids’ lives better,” Scroggs said.
Scroggs took his experience back to North Carolina, where he served as a teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Lenoir County Schools. While Scroggs was principal of Teachers Memorial School in Kinston, his school won the state’s Entrepreneurial Award, which is given to schools that take risks. Scroggs first met Pedersen at the award ceremony, because McDougle Middle School was also being considered for the award. After 24 years in Lenoir County Schools, Scroggs started thinking about Chapel Hill again.
“I got interested in coming home,” he said.
Scroggs returned to Chapel Hill to serve as principal of McDougle Elementary School and later was appointed assistant superintendent of support services.
Although he no longer worked directly with kids, Scroggs said he loved his job because what he did helped to make school better for children.
“I can see the differences we’ve made for kids,” he said. “We have been able to do good things for kids.
“What we do does make a difference. It’s the only reason we’re really in the business.”
Scroggs said he has especially enjoyed working with his support staff and Pedersen.
“I don’t think people realize how lucky we are to have Neil,” he said.
Although Scroggs had thought about retiring before, it never seemed like the right time. In February, he found himself with a window between projects.
“All these things kind of fell into place,” he said. “I think it’s time to look out for Steve for a little bit.”
Although he believes the district is headed in the right direction, Scroggs said Chapel Hill-Carrboro still faces several challenges as it grows.
“I think the biggest challenge in this district is eliminating the achievement gap,” he said. “I believe very strongly, ‘all’ means ‘all.’”
After retiring, Scroggs said he wants to take a break to spend time with his wife, Rita, cooking and gardening, but would like to come back to work part-time on particular school projects.
“I still have things to contribute to a school district,” he said. His two sons are continuing the family work in education as well — one works at Smith Middle School and the other is a student in UNC’s School of Education.
On Sunday, Scroggs spent the day packing up his office.
“I knew it was going to be a bad day, and it was,” he said. Just as on his first day as assistant superintendent, Scroggs broke down and cried.
“I love [my job] with a passion,” he said.
“I hope people realized we were trying to do what’s best for kids,” he continued. “I’ve never had anybody tell me any different.”