A difference made: Dill’s retirement ends remarkable tenure with Polk County Schools

Thank goodness for three generations of Polk County Schools students that Ronette Dill loved to clog.

After all, were it not for Dill’s skill at the mountain’s favorite dance, she might never have found her way to Mars Hill University. And if Dill doesn’t land at Mars Hill, perhaps the school’s education program never catches her eye.

And if Dill never takes an education class and doesn’t embrace the idea of becoming a teacher, the 33 years of enrichment that she provided Polk County Schools as a teacher, principal, district adminstrator and architect of community partnerships might never have happened.

And what a loss that would have been.

“Ronette Dill is one of the best educational leaders with whom I have had the pleasure of working,” said Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene. “Her efforts to support students and staff throughout her career have changed many lives for the better.”

Which is exactly what Dill wanted to do when she arrived in Polk County Schools in 1991 – make a difference.

“I think that people are made and meant to be in certain places at certain times,” Dill said. “I was meant to be here, and I hope that I’m leaving this place better than the way I found it. That’s one thing that my parents and grandparents really instilled in all of us – no matter what you’re doing, make sure when you leave, you leave it better than the way you found it.”

Concluding more than three decades of dedication to Polk County Schools, Dill is indeed leaving – she officially retired at the end of May, ending a remarkable tenure that touched every aspect of the district.

A remarkable, unplanned tenure – Dill originally intended to study architecture or interior design in college. But that clogging thing led her down a different path, starting with the day a high school guidance counselor entered her senior English class and handed her a letter from Mars Hill College, as it was called at the time, urging her to apply for the school’s Bailey Mountain Cloggers.

So she did, earning an offer that included scholarship money to join the team.

“It might be because I’m the oldest of four, but I felt the responsibility to be a good steward of my parents’ money,” Dill said. “I said, this is going to cost a lot less than going to the school I wanted to go for architecture and interior design. So let’s see what Mars Hill has to offer.

“I talked to different people in the business college and the education college, and I just really fell in love with Dr. Teresa Stern, and she talked a lot about how in their program, they taught teachers how to integrate the curriculum. That was something that really intrigued me. So I started down that path just because that was where I was, and when I toured the campus, I just felt like that was where I was meant to be.”

As so often happens when you follow the right path, all signs began pointing in the same direction.

“My first semester, I tutored a little boy in first grade,” Dill said. “Once a week, helping him with reading. And I thought, this is what I’m meant to do.”

Dill had found her vocation. Now she just needed a place to practice it – and Polk County Schools soon offered her that chance. Dill originally interviewed for an opening at Tryon Elementary School, but then-Superintendent Susan McHugh also mentioned a vacancy at Saluda Elementary School and urged Dill to drop by there while in the county. She wouldn’t leave for more than two decades.

“What a wonderful experience,” Dill said of her time in Saluda. “Teaching first grade for seven years, I loved, loved, loved those kids. And then to have the experience of teaching most of them again when I moved to middle school math for seven years. What a wonderful blessing to be able to pour into those kids’ lives and to get to know their parents.

“And then when I moved into the principal position (at Saluda Elementary in 2005), working with all of those teachers at Saluda for 11 years, teachers and custodians and office staff and cafeteria staff. Just an amazing group of people who really cared about kids and wanted the best for every child that was there.”

That group worked together to achieve much in Dill’s 11 years leading the small school. In her words:

  • “Becoming a national Blue Ribbon school was definitely one of the highlights.”
  • “Working with Rob Parsons and setting up Communities for Children, a mentoring program that’s still going on at Saluda.”
  • “We did Super Sizzling Summer Adventures, where area churches hosted kids. We would do academic stuff at school in the morning and then they would go to the churches for crafts and lunch and all kinds of fun stuff in the afternoons.”

When Greene became Polk County’s superintendent in 2016, one of his first calls was to Dill, bringing her to the district office as the director of curriculum and instruction. The new position offered her a chance to work with teachers throughout Polk County and would provide a new avenue to help shape its future.

“Being able to bring teachers from across the county together, to work together and plan together, that was huge,” Dill said. “I’ll never forget the first K-2 meeting I had. I had signs set up on the tables for kindergarten, first grade and second grade. The teachers came in, and they were upset that they couldn’t sit with the teachers from their school.

“I said no, you need to sit by grade level, and I’m so thankful they did. They weren’t happy about it, but they did it. Because a few years down the road, when the global pandemic happened, they had built those relationships and they worked really, really well together as a district team at each grade level to provide what we needed to do.”

Dill has closed her Polk County career as Grants and Community Partnerships Coordinator, working with entities such as the Polk County Community Foundation and Dogwood Health Trust to help land grants and funds for the district. Dill also worked to set up a mentoring program for students at Polk County Middle School and Polk County High School.

Her final two positions, both at the district level, have proven rewarding in ways different from being in the classroom or at a school. The two roles also provided Dill with newfound appreciation for all that makes Polk County Schools one of the state’s top public school districts.

“I think being able to see the big picture really made me understand what a special thing we have here in Polk County,” she said. “I knew when I was at Saluda, that little school up the mountain was a special place. But when I moved to the district level, each individual school has its own culture and its own uniqueness.

“And we have wonderful teachers at every single school in this district. And I’ve just enjoyed getting to know them and getting to see the good things they’re doing with their kids.”

Though stepping away from Polk County, Dill is not leaving education. She will be teaching three courses this fall at North Greenville University in the campus’ education program. She also is becoming licensed to help educators with retirement planning.

And doing both with a sense of gratitude for all that her clogging talents years ago brought in the years that followed.

“Thank you just doesn’t seem enough for the support that I’ve received over the years in Polk County,” she said. “From school leaders, from teachers in schools, from community members. I really don’t know that I could have had this experience anywhere else.

“And I just hope moving forward that the people that are here really realize how special this place is. And that they work really hard to maintain that, to do the little things on a daily basis to help keep this the special place that it is.”

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