My name is Susan Monica Henson. I like to go on a bit about things that excite me. This new blog is very exciting.
Names are a big deal in the South. By way of introduction, I’ll start by telling y’all about my first name and how I got it—although my mother, who goes by her middle name, called my sisters and me all by our middle names, which is kind of odd, because she called both our brothers by their first names, like my father goes by his first name. My youngest sister decided when she went off to college that she would go by her first name, Lisa, which she does with everybody excepting her immediate family. We all still call her Jill and will do so until we are all gone on to The Great By and By. Jill allowed two of her own kids, while they were still in elementary and middle school, to decide that they would rather go by their middle names than their first names.
I was born and raised in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. If you meet me in real life and think I am quite the hillbilly due to my pronounced accent, you might be surprised to learn that I am the third generation of my family to attend Western Carolina University (my son is the fourth) and one of an extended line of public school teachers and administrators. My great-grandparents on my mother’s side were very proud of the fact that they went all the way through eighth grade at the Hayesville Academy, back at the turn of the twentieth century before there was a high school. They sent all nine of their children to college and kept a subscription to the Asheville Citizen-Times all their lives.
My mother (Sue) and I were both named for my grandmother’s best friend, an elementary school teacher named Sue Haigler. Miss Sue taught right next door to my Granny Rogers, a/k/a Miss Willie, until they both retired, and Miss Sue kept right on teaching. She taught inmates at the local jailhouse how to read better.
Miss Sue was quite a character, and she and her sister Miss Louise, also a single lady for life (I prefer that elegant phrase far more to “spinster”) came to my bridesmaids’ luncheon when I was marrying my first husband. After I became a teacher myself, I used to write Miss Sue a handwritten letter every Christmas telling her what I had been doing all year. Miss Sue always wrote me back telling me what she had been doing all year, even when she went to live in the nursing home, where she no doubt continued teaching whenever she got the chance. The last letter I received from Miss Sue was five pages written in her beautiful elementary school teacher cursive.
Handwritten letters are also a big deal, and not just in the South. One of my biggest regrets is that I no longer have my letters I received from Miss Sue, and other letters from people who influenced me when I was young, for reasons that are best kept for another blog post. Miss Sue and Miss Louise were what once was commonly called “old maid schoolteachers.” That usually was considered a mildly pejorative term, but I embrace it with gusto and will explain why. If you decide to follow me on Twitter, which I hope you do (@DrMonicaHenson), you’ll see that I identify myself as “an old maid schoolteacher on a mission to change the world.” That pretty much sums it up, but I’ll tell you a little more to give you context. I’m not technically an old maid, as I have been married. I am, however, a proud old maid in spirit.
I live in Jasper, Georgia, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, in a split-level house with a screened porch. I have raised or participated in the raising of nine children, the oldest of whom is 32 and the youngest is 16, only one of whom is biologically connected to me. I built my family with biological, adopted, and step children, and I’m a proud grandmother who understands, as my own mother demonstrated when she became “Nana,” that when it comes to grandchildren, there is no such thing as blood, adopted, or step.
I am a charter school superintendent who has spent most of my career in district public schools, although for the past ten years I’ve had a foot in both the charter and the district worlds. I run an online charter high school district that caters to every possible type of square peg student imaginable. I think it’s quite ironic that my father’s father was principal of a pre-consolidation schoolhouse in the mountains of NC when they heated the school with coal, and he saw the advent of electricity in his youth when the TVA dammed the Hiwassee River, which runs into the Tennessee River. Two generations later, I saw the advent of the internet in my youth, and I am now running a statewide program that wouldn’t exist if not for electricity and the internet.
I am a Blue Dog Democrat and politically conservative on the majority of issues, notable exceptions being women’s health and the social safety net for the truly disabled, elderly, and minor children.
I’ve taught every grade from seventh through university graduate students. I’ve held every instructional administrator post imaginable from English department chair through superintendent. I edited my college newspaper and literary magazine and gave strong consideration to a career in journalism before going into education. I have been a registered lobbyist in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in the past. I’ve been a technical writer and a stay-at-home mother, as well as a high school basketball and volleyball official. Most of the time, though, I’ve been a teacher and school administrator. At heart, I will always be an old maid high school English teacher.
I founded, with Scarlet Hawk and some other fierce ladies in what I fondly call my Magnolia Mafia, a blog called Charter Confidential, devoted to telling the story of charter schooling in Georgia. I co-founded and moderate a secret Facebook political discussion group, The Usual Suspects. I am on Facebook all the time with my students in their closed Facebook groups, and I follow and contribute to the #gaed and #gapol hashtags on Twitter.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading what I have to say about things, even if you don’t always agree with me. I think of the internet as the electronic equivalent of the front porch, where neighbors can drop by when they have a minute to visit. Come on up, sit a spell, and have some iced tea.