When Christine Waggoner graduated from college, she was certain of her next destination: middle school.
"I knew I wanted to work with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders," said Waggoner, who is retiring this summer after nine years as principal of South Charlotte Middle School.
"I would not want to teach any other grade level," said Waggoner, who is 65. "They're wonderful. I love middle school."
Waggoner leaves with years of middle school experience, both as a teacher and administrator. She has worked in middle schools from Maryland to Belgium.
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"Above all, for Christine, it was about the kids," said Rita Griffin, school counselor at South Charlotte Middle and a close friend of Waggoner's. "It was about rigor, about making them stretch their minds. And our kids, they always did."
South Charlotte Middle's new principal is Lisa Bowen, who will come from Waddell High, where she served since 2008.
Waggoner officially retires Aug. 1.
A different culture
Waggoner taught for 11 years in Hagerstown, Md., her hometown. Then, in the late 1970s, Waggoner decided she wanted to experience what she was teaching in her world cultures class. She applied with International School Services and accepted a job as a seventh-grade teacher at The Community School in Tehran, Iran.
She arrived in August 1978, and within a month the Iranian Revolution began. Waggoner remembers sitting in a fellow teacher's apartment in Tehran, watching the arrival of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian rebel group, on television.
She left Iran in February 1979 on a Pan Am flight of American evacuees and returned to Maryland, but by the fall she was working at St. John's International School in Waterloo, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium.
But Waggoner said she knew she wasn't going to retire in Belgium, and in 1992 she accepted a job in Charlotte. "It was time to come back," she said.
Waggoner went to Marie G. Davis Middle School where she helped set up the international baccalaureate program, Griffin said.
She moved to South Charlotte Middle in 2002.
One of Waggoner's most lasting contributions to middle school began with a South Charlotte Middle student who wanted to take orchestra and French but couldn't because of state physical education requirements.
Waggoner, who's known for valuing student and teacher input, wanted to help. Her supervisor suggested offering another class period that would allow students to take physical education without disrupting their schedule.
Waggoner created the "ninth block" by shortening class periods and adding a 45-minute physical education class in the middle of the day. When South Charlotte Middle was designated a "school to watch" that year, school leaders took note of its new schedule.
"All of sudden, people came to visit our school, and we started going to North Carolina conferences and people were presenting (about) the ninth block," Waggoner said. "It became the standard, not only for CMS, but all over North Carolina."
At South Charlotte Middle, teachers have used to ninth block for everything from remediation and enrichment to teaching specialty classes such as "Film and Literature" and a class devoted to Normandy.
The school's jazz ensemble uses the ninth block to rehearse, freeing up the musicians to participate in after-school sports.
Griffin attributed the ninth block to Waggoner's creativity. "She's a big picture person," Griffin said. "She just does a great job."
Waggoner also started single-gender classes at South Charlotte Middle, experimenting with different levels and mixtures of students to determine which students benefited most from the setup.
While Waggoner points out that she is only one of many distinguished principals retiring from CMS this year, her record speaks for itself.
Her honors include 2007 National Middle School Association distinguished educator. She founded the European League for Middle Level Education, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary. South Charlotte Middle is one of two middles schools in North Carolina to be designated a Blue Ribbon School.