Emotions and kind words took up part of the final meeting of the Polk County Board of Education before the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

It also served as the final meeting for two special women, one who has come through the school district to take on leadership roles, and another who has been there to support her throughout it.

Polk Schools Superintendent Laurie Atkins and Superintendent Administrative Assistant Shawn Barnette were given special recognition at the Tuesday, May 12, meeting of the school board at the Polk County College and Career Academy as they both are set to retire from Polk School District at the end of the month.

Barnette has worked with Atkins for several years, moving with her to the district’s central office in 2015. She has also worked in school offices within the district.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Katie Thomas — who will succeed Atkins as superintendent beginning June 1 — led the recognition of both women, presenting them with gifts. She also read well wishes to Barnette from district employees.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with her for many years, from Euharlee to the central office,” Thomas read. “She’s always been a person that we admire. We’ll miss you Shawn, but we’re excited that you get to enjoy your family. They are the heart of who you are. And that’s reflected in everything you do.”

When it came time to talk about Atkins, Thomas presented her with a special desk clock and gave the floor to board Chairman JP Foster.

“When I first met Laurie, I realized she was a woman who was a born leader,” Foster said. “She’s compassionate. She’s emphatic, intelligent. She’s unafraid to take risks. She’s exactly what he needed in this district.”

Atkins started with Polk School District in 1991 as an elementary school teacher. She became assistant principal at Eastside Elementary in Rockmart in 2000 and then principal in 2002.

She then moved to the district’s administration as director of instruction before being named assistant superintendent in charge of instruction and assessment in 2015. She was then named superintendent in September, 2017.

Foster said instead of being a leader who led by fear or only did what would benefit themselves, Atkins was a different kind of leader.

“They understand the position because they’ve earned it by doing the job, being in the trenches, gaining the respect of coworkers, and staff and all employees. Leaders like Laurie don’t just listen to other people. They actually care,” Foster said.

Atkins said her time as superintendent has been “an honor and a privilege” and “a dream come true.”

“When I go to state meetings or regional meetings, I always get to brag about being the superintendent of the best county with the best students, the best teachers, administrators, and the best board,” she said. “I’ve been blessed, and I thank you for your support and the love that you’ve all shown, and I can’t wait to see the great places this district will continue to go.”

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