A newcomer to the school system, Scotland High School’s incoming principal Gregory Batten brings over 10 years of experience as a high school principal and a student-centric approach to education to his newest post.
A native of Johnson County, Batten comes to Scotland from a decade as principal of Lee County High School in Sanford. When Batten took that job in 2001, Lee County was much like Scotland in that it had only one public high school serving over 2,000 students.
“It was the largest high school in the state that wasn’t in Charlotte or Raleigh,” Batten said. “Scotland’s a large high school, but that’s what I’m used to. That’s where my entire teaching, coaching, and administrative career has been.”
Batten holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, with graduate degrees from N.C. State and Fayetteville State. He began his career in education teaching social studies at the high school level in Harnett County.
He has also coached baseball, basketball, and football throughout his career, and his passion for sports gave him a first insight into the character of Scotland County.
“We came to see some baseball and softball playoff games after I’d accepted the position here and what was really impressive was how the community came together for those events,” said Batten. “You could just sense such pride and everybody here pulling together for the same goal. You don’t always see that.”
Batten was hired as Scotland High principal in April and took his place at the school on July 1. Beth Ammons, who served as the high school’s principal during its unification process from smaller learning communities, takes the principal’s post at Spring Hill Middle School this year.
“This opportunity when it came was very attractive - we always said when our kids were no longer in the house, we would look for whatever opportunity was out there,” said Batten, who with wife Tammy has an adult son and daughter.
Among his achievements as principal of Lee County High School, Batten counts a sharp increase in the school’s graduation rate without compromising the quality of students’ education as one of the greatest. Over the course of Batten’s tenure at Lee County High School, the graduation rate increased from 64.5 percent to 91.2 percent.
“You don’t lower the bar to increase graduation, we’re raising it,” he said. “We also raised honors and AP courses - they nearly tripled during the same timeframe. So we really increased the rigor, increased the number of AP courses offered and number of AP credits earned while decreasing the number of dropouts and increasing the number of graduates.”
In addition to implementing technology initiatives and ensuring that students had access to computers on a daily basis, Batten said that a view of education as a service to customers contributed to his success in Lee County.
“You have to have a student-centered curriculum and revamp the traditional way of high school,” said Batten. “You have to be willing to look at what you offer, what you teach, how you teach it, and see what students need. If we’re in a customer service industry, we have to see who our customers are, what our customers need, and that’s what we have to provide.”
Batten also plans to look for ways to interest students in their own education by demonstrating its applicability to their futures.
“The mistake we make in education sometimes is we don’t always to a great job of educating folks as to what the value can be of them doing this,” he said. “We need to make sure people know why they’re learning to balance a quadratic equation. If you can convince them that if they take this path that it will better their life, they’re not going to say no.”
In his spare time, Batten enjoys deep-sea and freshwater fishing as well as going for walks with his two Labrador Retrievers. His wife, Tammy Batten, is also an educator and will be teaching health and physical education at Shaw Academy this year.
Batten said that his impression of the his staff at Scotland High School, as with the county overall, has been favorable in the two months he has worked with them.
“I think we have a lot of very strong teachers here and I think there are a lot of good things that have been happening here,” he said. “There’s a high energy level and people want to be here doing right by young people.”