By Stefanie Jackson – Nandua High School lost its heart with the death of Principal George Parker on June 18, according to one student.
Parker had been sick with an undisclosed illness for a few months.
“Mr. Parker, he was a role model, and he was like a mentor to a lot of the students at Nandua. In fact, I think a lot of us would say he was the heart of Nandua,” said Jamiaya Dennis, a class of 2020 graduate.
“He made sure all students stayed out of trouble,” she continued. “He even kept ties in his office for the young boys that couldn’t afford to buy ties when they had to dress up for games. And he just made sure that everyone was OK and well-taken-care-of … trying to make sure we were all on the right path. He’s going to be greatly missed.”
Accomack County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Holland said, “Mr. George Parker was so beloved by his students and faculty. He was always a gentleman and was well-respected within the community. … He was an excellent role model for his students and always encouraged them to be their very best.”
“He was a hard worker. He worked from the ranks of a teacher to become an administrator. His colleagues admired him as a leader and principal,” Holland said.
He called Parker a “self-made man” who began as a 1983 graduate of Central High School. Parker went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in educational administration.
Parker’s teaching experience included teaching biology and physics at Arcadia High School, where he became an assistant principal in 2007. He became an assistant principal at Nandua in 2008. Parker stepped up as interim principal of Nandua in 2015 and became its principal in 2016.
As principal, he taught his students how to become responsible adults. Another 2020 Nandua graduate, Larry Jones Jr., remembers sitting down with Parker in the cafeteria and talking about “how my future is going to be handled, how I should carry myself, how proud of me he was about what I was achieving and everything, how dedicated I was and hardworking.”
“He gave me advice … you know, just how life was and how I should handle things,” Jones said.
“I always appreciated how he’d always acknowledge me when I walked by and shake my hand and … ask me how I was doing,” said Joe Teasley, who also graduated from Nandua this year.
Dennis called her principal “a great person inside and out.”
Parker was a mentor and friend to both students and colleagues. Nandua’s assistant principals, Kimberly Giddens and Tyler Blaise, recalled how Parker helped them attain their current positions.
Giddens, who is originally from the Eastern Shore, became a teacher in 2007 and was mentored by Parker. After several years, she moved across the bay, where she studied for her master’s degree.
Parker “was available anytime” to help or give her advice. When an assistant principal position became available at Nandua last fall, he encouraged her.
When Parker asked Giddens if she had taken the educational administration test and she said yes, he responded plainly, “Well, you better apply.”
He’s “the reason I’m back on the Shore now,” Giddens said.
She appreciated that as a mentor, Parker taught not by telling, but showing. He believed in the “trial by fire.”
Blaise was thankful for Parker believing in him and choosing him as an assistant principal in spite of objections from some school officials.
After Blaise got the job, Parker called him and said, “I did it. I fought for you. I gave you the opportunity. Just don’t let me down.”
“Parker thought that I’d be the best fit for it, and I owe him putting me in the position,” Blaise said.
“I could talk to Mr. Parker about anything,” including food, recipes, sports, politics, and current events. “That just showed me … that he was a stand-up guy and that he trusted me and that anything we talked about was legitimate,” Blaise said. “He was a real person. He wasn’t kind of fake and things like that.”
Crystal Parks, Nandua’s school nurse, said in an email, “Mr. Parker was very stern, to the point, but very gentle and caring. The staff and students respected him. He was a mentor to many of the students and sometimes to me. … Anytime I needed him he was right there.”
“There were times we didn’t see eye to eye on some issues but in the end he always hugged me and told me he loved me. He said, ‘It’s going to be alright.’ … He will always and forever be in my heart with fond memories. Love ya Poppa,” Parks wrote.
Nandua teacher David Sabatino wrote, “Mr. Parker was appointed the first African-American principal in Nandua’s history. He had a demeanor that made all students and faculty feel significant, safe and secure. His mere stature and presence demanded respect from the entire student body. He was often straight-forward and to-the-point yet he could demonstrate deep compassion and concern for the welfare of others.
“Mr. Parker was uniquely gifted at reaching students with disciplinary and academic issues. He could reprimand a student one day and help them with college admission and scholarships the next. When people walked into our building, they automatically identified him as the principal. Mr. George Parker has left giant footprints in the hearts and lives of many people. We are really going to miss him.”
“He was always there for me, whether I needed advice or if I just wanted to share good news. I could count on him to listen and give me a hug when I needed one,” wrote teacher Dana Wright.
Nandua school counselor Cheryl Bono was also a recipient of Parker’s encouragement.
“When things got super busy and hectic he would always say to me, ‘Don’t let anyone steal your joy.’ Please remember these words said by a great principal and true friend,” she wrote.
“Mr. Parker was a person who was in the office or front commons every morning, usually holding his healthy drink, greeting everyone with a smile, nod, and good morning,” wrote special education teacher Sara Reedy.
“I will miss his voice on the morning announcements, and the ‘Parkerisms’ he always used when trying to get his point across. He was a strong presence in our building, who will be greatly missed.”
Class of 2020 graduate Molly Turlington wrote, “Mr. Parker taught the students at Nandua to always behave with civility, to treat others with mutual respect, and to treat each other with dignity. He lived by these values, and he set a great example in our school.
“I hope we all continue to follow by his example in order to continue his legacy. He will be greatly missed not only by the Nandua family but also the Eastern Shore as a whole.”
Nandua High School students, alumni, friends, and family are invited to gather in the front parking lot of the school for a candlelight vigil honoring the life of Principal George Parker, Friday, June 26, 6 p.m.