Caretaker of children

The smiles never stopped.

Neither did Melanie Elrod.

That’s what her coworkers, friends and community leaders said this week.
Elrod retired Wednesday after 34 years in the Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) system.

“I always liked going to school,” she said. “I always went to school. I never went to work.”

Elrod, a native of Cramerton in Gaston County, wanted to be a French teacher.

She said French teaching positions only open so often, and she finished her studies at the wrong time to find a job teaching the language. She figured out, however, that she enjoyed working with at-risk children.

So she did that for more than three decades in a variety of academic roles. That included substitute teaching, coordinating dropout prevention efforts, kick-starting NCCS’ English as a Second Language program, directing technology operations and retiring as director of student services and career and technical education.

“She’s done so much for people in high places and low places because she cares for people,” NCCS Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said recently.

“Perhaps that’s her greatest legacy. Melanie is known as the face of NCCS. She is known as the caretaker of children.”

Elrod said she’ll most remember children she met during her career.

“People say kids have changed,” she said. “Kids haven’t changed. They still need somebody to love them and assure them they’re important.”
Friends said she did that and more.

Many of those friends attended a retirement celebration this week in Newton-Conover Auditorium’s gallery.

People, some who drove several hundred miles, lined up to say goodbye and say good luck, and to reflect on Elrod’s career.

Generations know Elrod. She taught and influenced fathers and their sons, mothers and their daughters.

Elrod always nurtured children and helped develop staff, too, said Danny Lentz, who once occupied an office beside Elrod’s.

“She always brought so much energy to everything she did,” Lentz said.

“She’s given all she has to the kids of Newton-Conover. I can’t help but wish her the best.”

Alice and Dan Chamley drove from Tennessee to wish Elrod well. Alice said Elrod is the kind of person you “fall in love with” the first time you meet her.

“Her bright, cheerful way, it’s like sunshine when you talk to her,” Dan added.

At her retirement celebration, a friend read a poem about Elrod’s career.

Newton Mayor Anne Stedman crowned Elrod and gave her a sash, referring to Elrod’s self-title of “queen of Newton-Conover schools.”

Every friend who said hello also said thank you.

Many conjured stories, shared memories and gave mementos.

Some wiped tears from their cheeks.

Elrod smiled.

“Actually, I don’t know what we’ll do without her,” Redmond said. “She is our local historian, and she’s done so much for our school system.”

Elrod said she helped secure more than $2 million in grant money for schools during her career. She said she had many projects in mind, even as she retired.

School won’t end for Elrod.

“I plan to take some enrichment classes this summer — jewelry and creative writing,” she said. “And I’ll still be around.”