Quanda Turner has given many years to her community as a student, a teacher, a school bus driver and an administrator. A graduate of Orange High School in 1977, she returned to her home of Hillsborough in 1983 to begin teaching in the Orange County School district, a decision that kept her in Orange County for the remainder of her teaching career until retirement in 2019. Her joy in being able to serve the community that groomed her is evident. As she looks back at her time teaching, she pauses to try and remember every single person in her life to thank. One thing is clear: as Turner was helped as a young student and athlete, so she assisted others as an educator and coach to give her the same opportunities she was afforded.
“She being my first baby, I am so proud that she has accomplished what she has,” said Ida Lawson, Turner’s mother.
Even though she did not know it at the time, Turner’s path to teaching began when she was a college student. During the school year, Turner was both a successful student and track star at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. But when classes were let out for the summer, Turner returned home and worked with the Orange County Parks & Recreation. As a volunteer with the “Fun Summer Rover Camp,” Turner went around to various neighborhoods in Orange County to offer recreational activities to students. Around the same time, Turner also worked with Orange County Schools during the holiday season, teaching arts and crafts to students.
But when Turner graduated from Johnson C. Smith University with a Bachelor of Science degree, her next stop was not back to Hillsborough, but Ames, Iowa, where she attended graduate school at Iowa State University.
It wasn’t until 1983 that she returned home and took a position at Efland Cheeks Elementary School as a teacher assistant, thus setting her on her journey as an educational instructor that lasted for the next 36 years.
After just a few years teaching at Efland Cheeks, Turner made her decision to get her teaching certificate to help advance her career in Orange County.
“I feel that the students that I worked with, and just seeing how willing they were to wanting to learn and that I was able to maybe say something, do something, or give an encouraging word, or just to help them with their work to where they saw that they could be successful,” Turner said. “I think seeing the beam in their eyes and seeing that they were willing to listen to me and, to tell me at times, ‘I really appreciate you. I thank you for being here.’ That showed me, or gave me the fortitude to say, ‘You know, working with students would probably not be a bad thing because I see that I can make a difference.’”
From Efland Cheeks, Turner moved around the district with teaching positions at C. W. Stanford Middle School, Grady A Brown Elementary School, and A.L. Stanback Middle School. During each stop, she also worked as a coach helping students reach the athletic heights that she had decades before as a track runner at Orange High. In addition to breaking records as a track runner at Orange High, Turner was inducted into Johnson C. Smith’s Hall of Fame in 1997.
While at Stanback Middle School in 2003, Turner once again made a decision to further her career as an educator by returning to school herself.
“After those 10 years [at Stanback], I decided to go back to school,” Turner said. “I’ve always been a lifelong learner and I feel like someone who ceases to learn, they cease to live.”
Turner continued to teach at Stanback, but after school she drove to Burlington where she took classes for the Master’s in School Administration program offered by UNC Greensboro. In 2006, she received her degree and soon began the final chapter of her educational journey as an assistant principal at Stanford Middle School.
“I was very thankful for the former principal Clare Daniels, who was there and highly recommended me and supported me in making that move to go to C.W. Stanford Middle School and I’m eternally grateful to Mike Gilbert, who was the principal at that time, who hired me as the assistant principal at that time,” Turner said.
It was there that Turner stayed for the remainder of her teaching career that ended in June 2019.
On Nov. 9, she celebrated her career in Burlington with friends and family from Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. Even though Turner admits the feeling of not returning to school in August was bittersweet, she will always look back at her time with fondness and remember all the times she greeted students in the hallways of her school.
"I would compliment them on their appearance,” Turner said. “If I knew that they had been involved in an activity during the weekend and I was either invited, or knew something about it, or they had told me about it, I would always ask them, ‘How was that event?’ Or if I knew someone in their family was not well, I wanted the students to know, ‘I’m more than just your teacher. I’m more than just your principal. I care about you and your family.’”