By Kim Walter
STRASBURG - Holly Rusher bleeds purple.
"Once a Ram, always a Ram," she said, sitting in her office in Strasburg High School on Friday afternoon.
Rusher, a Shenandoah County native, has truly come full circle in her education experience, as she has been either a teacher or administrator at all three of the county's school campuses. She also recently completed her doctorate in education at Shenandoah University, and will graduate in May.
Starting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Rusher's education was all completed in the county's northern campus. She graduated from Strasburg High School in 1986, and moved on to James Madison University for her undergraduate studies.
Rusher toyed with the idea of getting a degree in education, but wound up graduating as a political science major. She "worked in the real world" for two years as a paralegal, but realized that she should go back to school and work on her "gut feeling" of being an educator.
After receiving her first master's degree in middle school education, Rusher taught sixth grade math at Signal Knob Middle School. She then furthered her education and earned a second master's in administration from Shenandoah University.
For two years, Rusher was the assistant principal at Signal Knob. Looking for a change, she moved to W.W. Robinson Elementary School in the central campus to work as the assistant principal.
But Rusher still wasn't done gaining experience.
She moved to the southern campus, and was Ashby Lee Elementary School's principal for seven years. Just last year, Rusher made the move back to her former stomping grounds. She is now the assistant principal at Strasburg High.
Rusher's office reflects her deeply rooted school sprit. Adorned with purple and yellow, the administrator won't let you forget how proud she is to work at the school.
On Friday afternoon, she even wore a purple sweater.
However, just because Rusher has remained in the same division during her education experience it doesn't mean she hasn't learned different things along the way.
"Each campus is specific to its community," she said. "They are all so very unique. It's one of the things I love about this school system."
Other things that have drawn Rusher back to the division include the never-ending "sense of family." She said she hopes to instill that sense of community and family into the current students.
She also credits former - and current - teachers with bringing her back to the halls she once roamed as a student.
"I can remember one teacher, Ms. Richardson, who is not here anymore. But she taught math, and I just loved it," Rusher said. "I can remember sitting in her class thinking, 'I want to be just like her.' She had high expectations and a love of teaching, and I wanted to impact students the way she did."
One of Rusher's teachers from high school is still working there, and now technically works for her.
"Larry Vance was the same way in terms of influencing me in my career choice," Rusher said of the government teacher. "He knew how to reach you as a student, and had this way of recognizing that all students are different."
Rusher had the "honor" of walking next to Vance into last year's graduation ceremony at the high school. She said the moment was pivotal.
"I remember walking and thinking how proud I felt to be a part of the faculty here," she said. "I just knew in that moment that this is where I'm supposed to be. This is what I'm supposed to do."
Rusher admitted that she isn't much of a test taker. Actually, that was part of the reason she put off pursuing her doctorate. Initially, Rusher would have been required to retake the GRE test, but Shenandoah University eventually waived the rule, since she had already completed the requirement at the school during previous studies.
"I want kids to know that they can't define themselves as a student based solely on one test or one SOL score," she said. "There are so many other things that go into being a good student."
In total, it took Rusher seven years to earn the doctorate - three years of coursework and four years of self-guided writing and dissertation.
"That part was challenging, because I'm kind of a perfectionist when it comes to my work, so I was going through lots of drafts and starting over," she said. "No one was there to set a due date or force me to finish, so I had to stay motivated."
However, going through the process while still being a teacher and administrator proved beneficial to Rusher.
"I could completely relate to students when they said they didn't have time for an assignment, or didn't want to 'waste' an evening working on something," she said. "I had kids, a husband, a job ... so I got it. But I always told them if this is your end goal, then there are certain sacrifices and things you have to do to get there."
Rusher said one thing she loves about the county and area itself is how she has always "felt safe here." Being at the high school, she said she hears many students counting down the days until they can leave.
The administrator encourages students to go out and experience what they can, but also tells them they may miss the small town, especially when they think about settling down and raising a family.
"I've been here for as long as I have, yet I've still managed to learn and grow on so many levels," she said. "And honestly, being from here has helped in my relationships with students ... I know their parents, their siblings ... I've literally been in their shoes and walked these halls."
The whole process has taught Rusher one main thing - "persistence pays off." Thanks to a good support system made up of family, friends and division staff, Rusher has made it to her end goal.
She said she's looking forward to the hooding ceremony during her graduation next month.
"That's something I want my kids to see," she said. "That will be the culmination of all my hard work."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com