For the past 39 years, Sherry Palmer has given her life to education as a teacher, principal and program director and myriad other posts.
About 10 years ago, she became principal of Carver Early Education Center, one of Ector County ISD’s two prekindergarten centers, and now she’s retiring.
She’s been with ECISD for 24 years.
“It was a hard decision to make, but I’m going to be 70 in June,” Palmer said. And she’ll be able to attend more family activities, something she can’t do as principal of Carver.
“It’s just a time in my life where I just kind of need to do something different. I still love it,” Palmer said.
Raised in Central Texas, Palmer graduated from Ballinger High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview and that’s where she met her husband, Jim.
She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from University of Texas Permian Basin and came within a dissertation of earning her doctorate from the University of Wyoming.
“I started my teaching career as a second and third grade (teacher), so a blended, combined classroom of second and third graders in a little country school (in) Spade, Texas …,” Palmer said.
She stepped out of education for five years to raise her daughter and then began teaching again at the now closed Sherwood Christian Academy.
Palmer was a third grade teacher at Dowling Elementary and then her husband’s job moved the family back to the Lubbock area. Palmer taught first grade there and then her husband’s job moved them to Wyoming where she taught sixth, seventh and eighth grade math.
Her husband’s job again brought them back to Odessa. Palmer taught sixth grade at Burleson and then was tapped to be part of a new program called Educators for Tomorrow.
“We recruited first-generation college-bound juniors and seniors in high school who thought they had an interest in education. And so I was the lead teacher and the coordinator of that program for five or six years. It was an amazing program. There are a couple of principals in town that actually went through that program. Ms. Davila at West (Elementary) and Amanda Warber, who’s the (elementary) alternative education principal went through that program. In fact, I think they were in the first cohort … and we have several teachers in our district that that actually went through that program,” Palmer said.
Central office and a stint in staff development was next.
Her next job took her back to Wyoming to manage a multi-million dollar federal Department of Education grant. “… We brought up three professional development schools where we could train teachers remotely because Wyoming is very remote, very remote,” Palmer said.
When she left Wyoming, she spent three years as an assistant principal at Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District. She got a chance to return to Odessa 14 years ago as principal of Dowling Elementary. She then had the opportunity to come to Carver Early Childhood Center.
“It’s been the most amazing thing. I have been blessed, let me say that, that every single thing I’ve done I’ve loved and I’ve had a passion about it,” Palmer said.
Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Howard and Executive Director of Leadership Andrea Martin said Palmer will be missed.
“Sherry’s passion and commitment to the students, staff, and families she serves at Carver Early Childhood Center is so evident in everything she does. She understands the importance of pre-k establishing a solid foundation for students to build on K-12. Sherry gets students excited about learning and does an outstanding job involving parents and helping them learn how to support their children as they enter school. We will miss her leadership at Carver and across the district. She is well respected by her colleagues and has served the students, staff, and families well over the years. We wish her the best as she enters a well-deserved retirement,” Howard said in an email.
Martin said when you look pre-k up in the dictionary, there needs to be a picture of Palmer.
“The Carver Early Childhood Center is a place where any parent would feel welcome and very happy with the learning experiences that their child was receiving. It also seemed as if every parent was ‘adopted’ by the campus and truly included as a part of their child’s education. This commitment to parents was very important to Mrs. Palmer. She loved every one of her students, and she knew that that parent partnership was key. As an advocate for pre-k and always wanting to learn more, Mrs. Palmer attended conferences, continuously researched pre-k education, and was not scared to let her staff try new and innovative ideas on campus. …<’ Martin said in an email.
This is Palmer’s 10th year at Carver and she estimated that she’s impacted thousands of students. She can recognize most of her former charges by their eyes.
“If I can get a good look at your eyes, I can figure it out,” she said.
Palmer said her top accomplishments over the past 10 years are helping prekindergarten teachers understand the data world and nurturing the staff to follow their hearts and to become an inclusive school, meaning that if you’re a special education student, you are well loved in this school not only your teacher, but by every adult.
“They’re going to look out for you,” Palmer said.
Parent engagement is the third accomplishment.
“This is such a great big job. We have to have the families’ help. They have to engage with us. We’re the foundational level, so it’s sort of up to us to start offering those opportunities and really teach the parents to be good school parents, if that makes any sense. Then we layer it on” with things like parent academies, Palmer said.
She noted that the school acts as the student’s advocate for a year or two, but the students will never lose their parents in that capacity.
The academies offer tips about how parents can be really good advocates and teach them how to ask “great questions.”
“We were the first early childhood center in the state of Texas to embrace the academic parent teacher team concept. That work is out of Harvard University, so it has some good research behind it. …,” Palmer said.
She added that she wants to create a revolution with parent engagement.
“We have to have families engaged with us and they have to know that data and what it means and what it means for their child. They have to be able to set individualized goals for their kiddo that are attainable and they’re going to help us reach it.”
Palmer said she will miss pretty much everything about her job.
“I will miss the children, first of all. I will miss the staff. The staff is a pretty amazing staff. And I’ll miss the families … and I’ll miss the fast pace …,” she said.
The Palmers’ daughter died 10 years ago of lymphoma. They have no grandchildren, but they have many nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews who they will be seeing more of.