Three school administrators and a school resource officer received Hero Awards for their response to a tornado touching down in Nash County this past summer. The school system also awarded a bus driver with the district’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

To open Thursday night’s meeting, the Nash County Board of Education recognized the heroism of school employees who stepped up to the challenge of keeping students safe during the severe weather event.

“On July 19, 2023, in the midst of Summer Scholars and other events taking place at our schools in the summer, around 12:30 the skies darkened, danger loomed and a tornado dragged through the northern end of our district,” Nash County Public Schools’ Superintendent Steve Ellis said, addressing the gathering. “Four individuals we are recognizing this evening stood as pillars of strength, exemplifying the true spirit of heroism. This was not a drill. It was a real-life tornado lock down. Their actions during these critical moments showcased their dedication to the safety and well-being of our students.”

Receiving Hero Awards were Allison Williams, principal of Red Oak Elementary School; Chad Horner, assistant principal at Red Oak Middle School; Northern Nash High School assistant principal Tracy Spence; and School Resource Officer Baltazar Rodriguez.

Heather Louis Finch, the school system’s executive director of communication, planning and engagement, said the school administrators acted before it was too late.

“All three acted on instinct before a tornado warning was issued. If a tornado had hit the school, their quick thinking and leadership ability would have saved the team and children’s lives. Their actions demonstrated their ability to lead on instinct before something terrible happens,” Finch said after the meeting.

Rodriguez, a school resource officer at Northern Nash, went above and beyond by staying late with a student to ensure that student safely reached home, Finch said. The situation at Northern Nash High was extremely hazardous, with multiple trees down and a reported gas leak on the main road to the high school.

Another school employee recognized at the meeting was Barbara Jones, who was presented with the school district’s Lifetime Achievement Award by Finch.

Jones is a school bus driver and a cafeteria worker who works primarily in the southern end of the school district. Jones is the first-ever recipient of the award.

“For an incredible 35 years, this staff member has dedicated herself to not just one, but two roles: as a bus driver and a cafeteria staff member,” Finch said. “Her impact on our students reaches far past the confines of a bus or cafeteria. She has touched the lives of thousands of students through her dedication, kindness and a heart that is always open.”

Finch said Jones infuses warmth and care into everything she does.

“She doesn’t just serve food; she nourishes hearts and souls. In her, we have an embodiment of dedication, compassion and the true spirit of a school community. She’s not just an employee; she’s family. She’s not just known; she’s loved,” said Finch, a former student who rode on a bus driven by Jones.