By Karen Petit
Dr. Sherry Eppelsheimer has never forgotten her father’s words to his three daughters: “All of you need to go on further with your education after high school.”
Eppelsheimer, recently named Associate Superintendent of High Schools for the Charleston County School District, acted on her father’s advice. She earned a B.A. in English from Lander University and a master’s degree in secondary guidance and counseling from Clemson University. She completed her Educational Leadership and Policy Studies certification and earned a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Carolina.
“My father had a huge impact on my making good grades and my going to college,” said Eppelsheimer, who grew up in Greenwood and whose career in education includes posts at Greenwood High School and Brewer Middle School. “He had an eighth-grade education and later completed his GED. My mom finished 11th grade. Whether that was a two- or four-year degree, he wanted something better for each one of us.”
Her parents’ hard work in Greenwood’s textile mills influenced her commitment to set goals and succeed. “Both my parents worked for over 30 years before retiring. From their examples, I learned to work very hard to accomplish many goals. They were both most influential.”
She commuted to Lander, and she worked to support her studies. “Fraternities and sororities were a huge part of college life. I was a Pi Kappa Phi little sister for the entire time I was at Lander. Those friends have remained life-long friends. In addition, I made other wonderful friends with whom I continue to maintain contact. Lander ties are the best!”
Although she majored in English, Eppelsheimer did not pursue teacher training or certification at the time. Then, with the urge to teach in her blood, Eppelsheimer, a wife and a mother to a daughter, Meredith, went back to school in a master’s degree program at USC. But when her husband moved to Anderson with his job, she finished her coursework at Clemson and teacher training at T.L. Hanna High School, while adding a son, Win, to the family.
When she was hired to teach English at her alma mater, Greenwood High School, Eppelsheimer knew she was going to make a career out of education. She taught at all grade levels for 14 years.
Eppelsheimer credits Beth Pinson, a former Greenwood High School administrator, with her decision to pursue educational leadership positions. She earned National Board Certification in Young Adult Literature in 2008 and joined Brewer Middle School as an instructional specialist that year.
Her life took a dramatic turn. After a divorce, she married John Eppelsheimer, a Lander graduate and physical education teacher. With her daughter studying at the College of Charleston, and her son having recently graduated from Greenwood High, Eppelsheimer decided to apply for a job at Wando High School, the state’s largest high school.
“I had always loved the area. With much support and encouragement from my husband, John, I applied for an assistant principal position at Wando High School,” she said.
She was hired for the post. In time, her husband got a job at James Island Charter High School, where he still teaches physical education and is on the school’s Leadership Team as department chair.
From 2008 – 2012, Eppelsheimer was Wando’s assistant principal and was promoted to associate principal in the spring of 2012. In this position, she was “second in command” and was in charge when the principal was away from school.
Her responsibilities included assisting in high school management, administration, testing and daily school management activities. She organized and helped to develop growth opportunities for teachers and staff, and continued as SAT and ACT site coordinator for Mount Pleasant. In 2015, she was named interim principal at Wando and became principal in 2016.
When the position of Associate Superintendent of High Schools became available, colleagues encouraged her to apply. “It was a hard decision to leave Wando, but it was the most logical ‘next step’ in my professional career,” she said. “I am excited for this next challenge and look forward to supporting the high school principals in our school district.”
Eppelsheimer said the strong foundation for her work with the Charleston County School District, the second largest school district in South Carolina, began at Lander, where the smaller classes and individual attention from professors helped her to develop the skills to pursue her goals.
“The expectations were very high for us, but we were able to build great relationships with each other and our professors,” she said. “I had the best grammar and literature instruction and preparation because of my Lander professors, their high expectations, and their willingness to assist us when we needed it.”
Her preparation at Lander also honed her skills to work in school administrative and leadership positions. “The people at Lander taught me to see how a smaller community of students and other adults could work together with and among a variety of people,” she said. “Dr. Larry Jackson was president, and he was very visible on campus. He knew many of us by name and was available.”
With other Lander professors and staff members being “supportive, kind and helpful,” Eppelsheimer said, “It was obvious, that the Lander community worked hard to make college a great experience for all the students. This is what I wanted to do as an administrator. I learned much from what I saw and experienced.”
An educator with more than 30 years of experience, Eppelsheimer said she has enjoyed every minute of her work. “The students are most important, and doing what is best for them is paramount. I believe in serving others, and I have been blessed to teach and work with thousands of young people.”
Over the years, Eppelsheimer has assisted many students with recommendations, applications and graduate-level work. “I am proud to say that a number of my former students are now in education,” she said. “I would like to think I may have encouraged that spark somewhat!”
While the rewards of a career in education are many, she is most proud to see students succeed and achieve in life. “I have always said my two favorite days of the year are the first day of school and shaking hands with students at graduation. I love the reassurance of knowing they have a viable plan for what they will do after high school no matter if they are going straight into a job, going into the military, or going on to a two- or four-year program in college,” she said.
“When I see former students as adults and they tell me what they are doing, that is the reward in itself. Our job as educators is to give our students the keys to a successful life – that is education.”