Cottageville Elementary secretary chosen Jackson County School Personnel of the Year

Suzette Lowe
‘Miss Pam’ welcomes everyone to Cottageville Elementary with a smile.

Ask any teacher or administrator who the heart of the school is, and the answer would likely be the same. It is the school secretary.

This holds true for Cottageville Elementary School with Pam Cunningham in that position.

Her colleagues chose her as their school’s Service Personnel of the Year. She went on to earn the distinction of being the 2020 Service Personnel of the Year for Jackson County.

After graduation, Cunningham worked for several years as secretary at various private businesses. When her youngest child was in second grade, she was hired by the Jackson County Board of Education as a teacher’s aide. She has not taken a break since.

“I have worked with many wonderful teachers as a paraprofessional aide through the years,” she said. “I was at Ripley Elementary and Gilmore, but after 21 years I thought it was time for a change.”

Cunningham had taken the secretarial test, but never felt led to leave the classroom until 2019.

“A secretary position at Cottageville Elementary came open and I was hired,” she said. “It’s been a very refreshing move. I get to be with the children but in a different capacity.”

As secretary, Cunningham says she has many duties.

“I take care of finances, do lunch counts, act as receptionist and liaison between parents and staff,” she said. “When we do not have a school nurse, I take on that task as well. I love every minute of it.”

For Cunningham, the job is not a difficult one because she loves everything about it. The most important thing to her is what she sees the teachers and other staff do every day.

“The students are the number one priority at Cottageville Elementary,” she said emphatically. “Every single person goes far beyond the eight-hour day to make sure the students have what they need to succeed. Each morning, after the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence, the students are led in the mantra, ‘I am loved, I can learn and I will succeed’. That is what our school is all about.”

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Cunningham worked every day. She helped her fellow staff members put together food packages for the children. She also was part of recording a book to show the students they were loved and missed.

“I will do the craziest thing to make a child smile,” she said. “Our school therapist, Casey Drake, and I dressed up as an elf and reindeer during Miss Ebinger’s reading of ‘The Night Before Christmas’. That’s the kind of thing you do when everyone in your school is like family.”

One of her ‘family members,’ Title I teacher Missy Harbin can’t speak highly enough of ‘Miss Pam.’

“She’s a rock star,” Harbin said. “She always finds a way to help others even when she’s overloaded with work herself. Miss Pam is truly amazing.”

As for the future, retirement may never come.

“God has truly blessed me by putting me at this school,” Cunningham said. “I look forward to going to work each day. I could retire in two years, but I told my husband I love my job too much to leave it.”