Principal ends 39-year career

Published 9:55 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A longtime member of the Suffolk Public Schools community is ending a career that spans decades.

John F. Kennedy Middle School Principal Vivian Covington will retire this summer after 18 years at the school and 39 years in Suffolk Public Schools. Bryan Thrift, principal at Riverside Elementary School in Newport News, will assume the role in July.

Covington was brought into the school system as an 11th-grade U.S. history teacher at Suffolk High School in 1978. She recalled being hired by the late Unity Bailey, who mentored her as she steered away from her original path as a social worker and began a teaching career.

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“She was a wonderful, loving, kind and pure-hearted woman,” Covington said. “She poured into her teachers’ lives and encouraged us to always do our best and be better.”

Covington taught there until the school closed in 1990. The building now is the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

In 1991, she became the first female assistant principal at Lakeland High School, where she stayed until 1996. One of the changes she observed over the years was an increase in the number of women going beyond teaching positions and into administrative roles.

“I think it’s wonderful, and it opens up opportunities for women to pursue the higher levels of school administration,” she said.

Her first opportunity as a principal was at Forest Glen Middle School, where she served from 1996 to 1999. The year she left Forest Glen, she went to John F. Kennedy.

She said one of the most rewarding experiences during her lengthy career has been seeing the children of her former students earlier in her career.

“It’s rewarding to see the children of those I’ve taught,” she said. “They’ve become wonderful parents and productive citizens. It’s wonderful to see what they’ve accomplished.”

But she takes the most pride in the roughly 12 former assistant principals or teachers that have served under her and gone on to greater administrative roles.

Former Suffolk Public Schools assistant superintendent Kevin Alston was an assistant principal under Covington at Forest Glen Middle School, where he became the principal after she left for John F. Kennedy.

King’s Fork Middle School Principal Jennifer Presson served under Covington as an assistant principal at John F. Kennedy, as did Nansemond River High School Principal Daniel O’Leary.

“I think of myself as a cheerleader,” Covington said. “My approach is to identify people’s potential and then provide an environment that allows those people to thrive and develop.”

She now looks forward to free time spent with friends and family, and she’s excited to close one chapter of her exemplary life and begin another.

“It’s going to be different for sure, but it’s going to be a new kind of different,” she said. “It’s just one part of my life’s journey. The other part is about to begin.”