Dr. Sharon Smith Pennell, the most senior member of the Caldwell County Board of Education, passed away Saturday evening, May 8, 2010, at Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir after a year-long battle with cancer. Dr. Pennell has served on the Caldwell County Board of Education since 1984, and was currently serving in her fifth, two-year term as Chairman of the Board of Education.
In her 26 years of service to the Caldwell County Board of Education, she has worked effectively in all areas of school board responsibilities including budget, facilities, personnel, policies, curriculum, planning and public relations.
As a distinguished Board member and educator - an Associate Professor at Appalachian State University in the Department of Communication with a concentrated focus in journalism for 24 years - she dedicated her life's work to public education and teaching: "We extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Dr. Sharon S. Pennell. We mourn with them and feel a grievous loss in the Caldwell County Schools," said Superintendent Dr. Steve Stone. "We can be comforted in the remembrance that Dr. Pennell had a profound impact on the education system in Caldwell County measured by countless students, whose education has opened doors of success and opportunity in building more productive, fulfilling and joyful lives."
Dr. Pennell's tenure and leadership on the School Board facilitated a strong cooperative relationship between the Caldwell County School System and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute resulting in the establishment of the Caldwell Career Center Middle College, the Caldwell Early College High School and an Appalachian State University Center for the preparation of teachers on the Caldwell campus. Her strong leadership also led to many significant accomplishments realized by the Caldwell County Schools, as evidenced by the continuous gains in test scores, significant decreases in the dropout rate and the impressive number of National Board Certified teachers.
Honors and awards that have set Dr. Pennell apart include the Governor's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Forensics, North Carolina Speech Teacher of the Year, Lenoir Business and Professional Women's Club Career Woman of the Year, North Carolina Career Woman of the Year, and the Caldwell County Distinguished Woman of the Year. She was one of seven School Board members statewide named to the prestigious All-State School Board for her dedicated service to education and the children of North Carolina. She was also the recipient of the William C. Lassiter First Amendment Award for openness in government, the Diamond Key Coach Award from the National Forensic League and the state award for editorial writing from the N.C. Press Club. She published more than 20 articles on the state and national level, four of those articles published in the North Carolina School Boards Association Journal.
In one of Dr. Pennell's published articles she surmises, "What makes a good board of education member---is making children a priority." True to her own words, "she genuinely cared about decisions that affected students, staff and administration in the Caldwell County Schools," said Dr. Stone. "For this, she will always be highly regarded as an inspirational, community leader, who will be greatly missed by the students, faculty and friends for whom she served."
Dr. Pennell is survived by her husband of 40 years, Darrell Clayton Pennell, who is a retired Caldwell County Schools educator; a son, Steven Walter Pennell and wife Jenna of Hickory, two brothers, W.E. Rozzy Smith (Language Arts and Science teacher at Hudson Middle School) and wife Ann of Hudson; and Barry W. Smith and wife Priscilla of Lenoir; and a number of nieces and nephews.
The family of Dr. Sharon S. Pennell will receive friends and family Tuesday, May 11, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at First Baptist Church of Lenoir. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, May 12, 4:00 pm at First Baptist Church of Lenoir with the Rev. Dr. David Smith and the Rev. Dennis Herman officiating. Burial will follow at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens. The Caldwell County Board of Education members will serve as honorary pallbearers.
Memorials may be made to the Dr. Sharon Pennell Scholarship for Teachers through the Education Foundation of Caldwell County, Inc., located at 1914 Hickory Blvd., Lenoir, NC 28645.