Four Education Leaders Selected for Lifetime Achievement Award

Columbia, SC—Four school leaders from across the state have been selected by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) as 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award winners. This year, Mr. Bobby Cunningham, Director and Principal of the W.R. Rogers Adult, Continuing, and Technology Education Center in Richland District Two; Dr. David Mathis, former Deputy Superintendent of College and Career Readiness at the SC Department of Education; Mrs. Margaret Peach, Principal of McCracken Middle School in Spartanburg District Seven; and Ms. Elizabeth “Beth” A. Phibbs, Executive Director of SCASA, were all selected to receive this award for their contributions to education in South Carolina.

Bobby Cunningham, an experienced educator, has dedicated 43 years to the field, serving as a successful school administrator and principal for 21 years. Under his leadership, McCormick High School received the Palmetto Gold Award and was recognized by the National School Boards Association as a Turnaround School in his first year as principal. In Richland District Two, he held multiple roles, including interim assistant high school principal, math teacher, athletic director, and coach. Since 2011, Mr. Cunningham has been the Director and Principal of W.R. Rogers Adult, Continuing, and Technology Education Center, which has consistently been recognized as being among South Carolina's highest performing adult education centers. He expanded opportunities for students, secured a work-based learning grant, and increased program enrollment. Mr. Cunningham received various accolades, including the Goodwill Partners in Power of Work Award and SCASA Adult Education Director of the Year. He actively contributed to SCASA, serving on the board and executive committee, and played a pivotal role in initiating the Adult Education Roundtable. He is a servant leader in his community, serving as the South Carolina Adult Education Technical Assistance Network Coordinator and on the Midlands Workforce Development Board since 2016. Mr. Cunningham's impact extends to the lives of students, teachers, and athletes, as he inspired achievement and success. Despite his accomplishments, he remains humble, focusing on the welfare of students rather than personal recognition.
Dr. David Mathis has dedicated his entire 42-year career to education, starting as a middle school social studies teacher in Edgefield County. As an administrator at Merriweather Elementary School, his school posted some of the highest achievement scores in the state. Later, as the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. Mathis initiated the district's first teacher forum and facilitated on-site graduate courses. In 2008, Dr. Mathis became the superintendent of Saluda County Schools and led the district to significant academic gains, meeting federal academic benchmarks of Adequate Yearly Progress when no other South Carolina district did. He later joined the State Department of Education as the Deputy Superintendent of College and Career Readiness. In his time at the department, he and his team implemented the state's first learning object repository for instructional materials and established statewide science of reading curricula and training. Dr. Mathis expanded successful programs like full-day 4K education, and he tackled the challenges of COVID-19 by providing math interventions and free tutoring statewide. Dr. Mathis served SCASA for over three decades, holding various leadership positions, including President of SCASA and the South Carolina Foundation for Educational Leadership. He also contributed to other organizations such as South Carolina ASCD, International ASCD, and South Carolina First Steps. From his time in the classroom to his service at the state level, his steadfast leadership has had a tremendous impact on public education in the state, leaving a legacy for future generations of educators and students throughout South Carolina.

Margaret Peach is an esteemed educator with a 39-year career in public education. Currently serving as the principal of McCracken Middle School, she promotes innovation and technological exploration through courses and programs at her school. Her students have achieved notable success, with the creation of Spartanburg's first middle school CyberPatriots team and her school's Future Cities Team winning multiple awards, including the recent Regional Winner for South Carolina. Under Margaret's leadership, McCracken Middle School has received recognition for academic excellence, earning both Palmetto Gold and Silver awards. The school has been designated as a national “School to Watch” in 2015, 2018, and 2023. Mrs. Peach aims to provide opportunities for all students to succeed in and out of the classroom through a variety of clubs and continually working to ensure that all students have an opportunity to experience the beauty and culture of the world through travel. Mrs. Peach has organized field trips to Charleston, Atlanta, Asheville, New York, Washington DC, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Puerto Rico. Her dedication to the arts is evident through her involvement in coordinating district musical productions and supporting student-led performances at McCracken. Beyond her school community, Margaret is an active member of SCASA, serving on committees and in leadership roles for over 20 years. In the 2021–22 school year, she served as president of SCASA and the South Carolina Foundation for Educational Leadership Board. Margaret Peach's unwavering commitment has positively impacted students, families, and staff throughout her remarkable career.

Elizabeth “Beth” Ann Phibbs, a dedicated champion of public education, has enjoyed a remarkable career in South Carolina's education sector. Beginning as an elementary teacher, she later transitioned to the business realm as Program Manager for Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina in 1986. Ms. Phibbs then joined the South Carolina Department of Education, where she played a crucial role in establishing the Office of School Leadership and served as Program Director for the School Leadership Executive Institute's Developing Aspiring Principals program. In 2006, She joined the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) as Director of Governmental Affairs. For nine years, she excelled in shaping public education policy, influencing critical decisions for the state. In 2015, she was promoted to the position of Executive Director of SCASA. During her tenure, she oversaw the acquisition, renovation, and payoff of a new building, which became the home of the Center for Executive Education Leadership (CEEL). This groundbreaking program, unique to South Carolina, provided exceptional leadership development opportunities for school administrators. Ms. Phibbs also established significant initiatives to honor educators, including an annual black-tie gala celebrating Distinguished South Carolina Public School Graduates and the South Carolina Educator Hall of Fame. These events offered well-deserved recognition and celebrated the profound impact of dedicated educators on the state. Ms. Phibbs' unwavering dedication, visionary leadership, and exceptional service in education have left an indelible mark on South Carolina's public policy landscape and educational leadership, ensuring a lasting legacy for years to come.

“Bobby Cunningham, Margaret Peach, and David Mathis represent the gold standard of school leadership in South Carolina. They are highly respected throughout our state as well as being influential members within their individual communities,” said Elizabeth “Beth” A. Phibbs, executive director of SCASA. “We are honored to acknowledge their distinguished careers and their exceptional service to public education as well as to SCASA.”
SCASA President Angie Rye continued, “The SCASA Board is excited to honor our Executive Director, Beth Phibbs, with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recipients are carefully selected from educators across South Carolina who have made a significant and lasting impact on public education. Through her many contributions in a variety of roles, Beth has given her life's work to help ensure that students are better served by strong school leaders. She is a true advocate for public education and continues to put her heart into collaborating with educators and business leaders across our state.”

Each year SCASA selects exemplars of educational leadership to receive the SCASA Lifetime Achievement Award. These leaders have dedicated their lives to educating South Carolina's children, serving their communities, and providing an example for those who aspire to lead.

The Lifetime Achievement Award selection committee uses the following criteria to choose the award recipients:
  • evidence of outstanding leadership as an educational administrator,
  • a record of service and leadership as a member of SCASA and its affiliates,
  • community service not directly related to the education profession, and
  • service to the profession above and beyond normal job responsibilities.
Mr. Cunningham, Dr. Mathis, Mrs. Peach, and Ms. Phibbs were honored on Wednesday, June 21, during a presentation to over 1,700 school leaders as part of the closing ceremony of the 2023 Innovative Ideas Institute, SCASA's annual conference. Each winner received a commemorative plaque presented by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators and a ring presented by Herff Jones.

SCASA is the professional organization for school leaders in South Carolina, with a membership of more than 5,200. From leadership development opportunities and research to publications and legislative advocacy, SCASA's focus is to support school leaders in providing the best possible education for South Carolina's young people. As a state affiliate of three national associations for school leaders, SCASA also works on the national level.