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Northeast staffers Sawyer, Neal earn 2020-21district honors

LCPS administrators scoured the entire school district for employees who could be fittingly honored as the top teacher assistant and top non-instructional staff member for 2020-2021. They found both working right down the hall from each other at Northeast Elementary School.

 Six adults post for a photo with the middle two women holding balloons. Betty J. Sawyer, praised by her principal for her passion for teaching and her “motherly instincts,” is the LCPS Teacher Assistant of the Year. Her coworker, Retenner D. Neal, the data manager at Northeast who has been with the school district for 18 years, is the Non-Instructional Classified Staff of the Year.

The women were surprised with the announcements on Friday, when Superintendent Brent Williams and his Prize Patrol showed up at Northeast bearing balloons.

The annual honors are the first two announced during award season for the district, which also crowns its Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year in the spring.

A teacher assistant and bus driver with the district for nine years, Sawyer was chosen at her school as Teacher Assistant of the Year. She holds an associate of science degree in early childhood education from Lenoir Community College and at Northeast is teamed with kindergarten teacher Gloria Finch.

“I am very thankful to have worked with Mrs. Gloria Finch for the past five years.” Sawyer wrote in the biography that accompanied her nomination. “Mrs. Finch is one of the main reasons for my being nominated and chosen as Teacher Assistant of the Year (at Northeast) because of the excellent team we have become.”

Principal Rashard Curmon praised Sawyer as a problem solver, an innovator and an inspiration to her students and coworkers.

“Mrs. Sawyer’s work is rooted in her mission to inspire and impact all those she comes in contact with each day,” Curmon said. “It is through her knowledge of the best practices coupled with her motherly instincts and professionalism that makes her a tremendous asset to the Northeast team.”

Sawyer is a member of Northeast’s School Improvement Team and is active in her church and as a member of the local and state chapters of the N.C. Association of Teacher Assistants.

Neal came to Northeast after working at Kinston High School. She’s been the school’s data manager for the past six years.

“She is the ‘go-to’ for most things in our front office,” Principal Curmon said. “Mrs. Neal takes it upon herself to provide exceptional support and service to all staff members. She is very goal oriented and customer-service minded.”

Describing herself as an employee who strives “to continuously keep learning,” Neal is an active member of Educational Office Professionals, a participant in EOP- and district-sponsored professional development sessions and a presenter at training sessions for county data managers.

“Each year I obtain more knowledge from the previous year and contribute that to help me improve and do my job more efficiently,” Neal wrote in her biography.

She is a member of Northeast’s School Improvement Team, a position she also held at Kinston High, and serves as associate pastor of Present Truth Ministries.

“My church is located directly across the street from Northeast Elementary School,” Neal said, “which allows me to serve families in the community of my church and school during the workweek and on the weekends.”

Photo caption:

LCPS Teacher Assistant of the Year for 2020-21 Betty J. Sawyer, third from left, and Non-Instructional Classified Staff of the Year for 2020-21 Retenner D. Neal, third from right, are surprised at Northeast Elementary School on Friday by, from left, Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II, Superintendent Brent Williams, Human Resources Director Pam Heath and Northeast principal Rashard Curmon.