Before Magnet: Ms. Spencer

Learn more about Ms. Spencer!


Ms. Spencer has lived in 7 states, 3 countries, and visited over 50 countries.

For our final publication of The Talon and also our Before Magnet series, we’ve decided to interview our very own Ms. Spencer about her career as a principal in International Schools, her childhood, and much much more. Read on to learn more about Ms. Spencer and why she loves working at AMHS.

Q: What is a favorite storybook from your childhood that has impacted you?

The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth. I have my original copy that I had as a child and now have about 4 or 5 copies. It opened my eyes because it was about the Buddhist religion and the dignity of all creatures. It was an awakening for me

Q: Where are you from? 

Huntington, West Virginia – I’m a coal miner’s granddaughter. My family has moved from there over the years, and 2014 was the last time I was there. I have a few friends from high school there, we keep up now on Facebook and that sort of thing.

I wouldn’t want to be sixteen or seventeen again, except for when I look at what you guys are doing. Wouldn’t it be cool to start over and be their age with the exciting opportunities going on?

— Ms. Spencer

Q: Where have you lived besides there and here?

Oh gosh, 7 states including Oregon, and I also lived 5 years in Mexico and 5 years in Egypt. This school is just so wonderful, that’s why I am here.

Q: Have you met any celebrities?

Well, yes as a matter of fact, I’ve met Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was a while ago, I did some performing back in the day. I met Mrs. Mubarek (the former Egyptian president’s wife) and Vincente Fox (former president of Mexico). I met one of the James Bond villains- you wouldn’t know his name, he wasn’t a common character. Kevin Costner, and… the governor! I just met the Governor of South Carolina today! I also met Howard Gardner, a big education guru, who started research on multiple intelligences. I’ve met lots of interesting people,; it’s been fun.

Q: What is the most interesting job you’ve had?

This isn’t very interesting but my first job was at KFC. I was one of the counter girls. The most interesting job though was working as a principal in Egypt for five years. That really is another world. Mexico was fun, but it wasn’t a culture shock- I don’t mean shock in a negative way, really a positive way, a cultural awakening… To live among a different society in a different part of world. It changes hanges your whole paradigm. It really does.

Q: What was a significant event from your youth?

One of the most significant things as a teenager was being quite involved in service, and one of the big ones was working with special education children. That really stuck with me- the opportunity to work closely and really be involved. This was back in the 70s, things were really just emerging with the American Disabilities act and that sort of thing.

Q: What’s the best part of your day?

The merry-go-round here, when teachers and students just cycle in and out of my office. In most schools this isn’t part of the routine. This is an unusual thing, a joyful luxury having the doors and windows open and people can just come in with an idea or a concern. That is really a special part of magnet and this particular school and particular position. It’s an everyday occurrence.

Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher/principal?

I never really did. It was a funny thing. I didn’t go through traditional teacher training, I didn’t start until my 30s. I was really involved in performing and through the theater companies we would do musical and theater education classes. so I was really interested with that in schools and walked into a school district building and asked if they could use me and ended up getting job as a music, art, theatre, and French teacher in my first year at a junior high… I have an interesting college background… Anyway, from there I began to work with young kids in the arts and seeing the spark when kids find their passion was what got me hooked into school. The first ten years or so of working in education I was working with the arts students. When I came  to South Carolina I got involved with IB and the Kennedy Center for teacher education, it was very serendipitous that I ended up here. If you told me as a high school student or a twenty year old that I’d be a principal one day I’d have laughed out loud. The opportunities arose and they have been really significant, a learning experience for me.

Q: What kind of performing arts were you involved in? Do you miss it?

I was a singer and actor. I do miss it sometimes and I try and do some stuff here and there. I haven’t really gotten back into it, but would like to.

Q: What is your greatest accomplishment?

This sounds kinda braggy, but it’s just a fact- I was at the number one international Egyptian school, number one international Mexican school, and now I am at the number one American high school…. Look at this! I think that’s it. I feel so blessed and so privileged to have worked at number one schools in 3 countries. That’s a pretty interesting triple threat.

Q: Could there be another number one high school in your future?

I’m really close to retirement age, I’ve never really thought much about retirement though…  but maybe I’ve got one more left! But this is a pretty cool place to be, I couldn’t think of why I’d want to leave. This is a great great school.

Q: What’s your favorite place in the world and how were your experiences in Mexico and Egypt?

I’ve been a lot of places- Himalayas, Thailand, the great wall. There’s a magical place in Egypt- the Sinai Peninsula- that’s probably my favorite. You can’t go there now because it’s too dangerous. But I made a couple treks there on camels and it’s just magical- in the deserts and sleeping under the stars and the great firmament right above you. It’s magical. It’s a place that probably hasn’t changed in thousands, thousands of years.

If you have the chance to go, go. Don’t settle. I know it’s hard… but you can do it.

— Ms. Spencer

Q: What is some advice that you would have told your younger self and/or current AMHS students?

I love my life and am really proud and pleased to be where I am. There are a couple of decisions that I wish I had made differently. And one of those is not to sell yourself short. If you have the chance to go, go. Don’t settle. I know it’s hard, it’s hard to break the ties of home, it’s hard to walk away from friends. It’s uncomfortable. It’s harder than it has to be. But you can do it.

Q: What is something that you haven’t done yet but would like to do?

I really wish I were fluent in another language. I can speak a little bit of a lot of stuff, but I’m not fluent in anything but English. That’d be really big. There’s not a place in the world I wouldn’t go to. I’ve been to over 50 countries. I started traveling in my 20s. The big bulk was when I was living overseas because it’s so easy. When you’re in Cairo for instance you’re an hour and a half from Athens, Jordan, Beirut, Rome, etc. and I took advantage of it.

Q: What is your favorite part of being the principal of the Academic Magnet?

The ideas that I receive everyday and interactions with students and faculty. This is a cauldron of boiling ideas and that’s exciting… I get ideas from such a wide spectrum. And it pleases me that many students and teachers aren’t shy about coming forward with things and ideas, to make the school and world better. And that’s truly the best part. I wouldn’t want to be sixteen or seventeen again, except for when I look at what you guys are doing. Wouldn’t it be cool to start over and be your age with the exciting opportunities going on? The other thing I think would be if I could have 30 more years to just keep doing what I’m doing now and have 30 more years to use my knowledge that I’ve learned from my life. That’s been on my mind a lot lately. To work in an exciting, soul feeding environment for thirty more years, I just couldn’t even imagine how cool that would be.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about not just Ms. Spencer but all of the teacher’s we’ve interviewed this year. We’ve certainly loved getting the chance to talk to our teachers about more than just school, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them. It’s always worth it to get to know your teachers; all of the ones we interviewed are full of fascinating stories and advice. We are so grateful for all that they do.