Serving Barnwell County and it's neighbors since 1852

Barnwell Primary School principal Donna Selvey rides off into retirement in style


For 30 years, Donna Selvey has been a full-time educator. Now she’s ready to be a full-time grandma.

The Barnwell Primary School (BPS) principal is retiring after three decades in education. Twenty-seven years were in South Carolina, mostly in Barnwell and Williston, while the other three were in her home state of Tennessee.

“It won’t really hit me until August when school starts. I’m used to being so busy,” said Selvey of being retired.

Dream Job

Selvey always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Being a tutor in high school solidified that dream.

“I love the excitement of seeing people learn new things,” she said.

Her first job was as a science lab teacher in Aiken. They did STEM-type activities of science, technology, engineering and math.

“Math is what I really wanted to teach. Back then it was very hard to find middle school math positions,” said Selvey. Nowadays, she said it’s hard to find teachers for those once hard-to-find positions.

An 8th grade math teacher opening at Williston-Elko Middle School (WEMS) led her to Barnwell County. She later moved home to Tennessee briefly before returning to South Carolina to work at Millbrook Elementary in Aiken while she finished her master’s degree in administration.

After completing her degree, Selvey got a call from Lexie Clamp, then-superintendent of Williston School District 29, about an opening for principal of Kelly Edwards Elementary School (KEES). The two previously worked together at WEMS when Clamp was principal and Selvey was a teacher. Clamp was the one who encouraged Selvey to pursue her degree in administration.

“She is one of the best administrators and friends I have worked with in my career. Enjoy your retirement,” said Clamp.

After approximately 10 years as principal of KEES, Selvey became principal of BPS in 2012.

“I love our little town. I prefer the small, community schools. I’ve worked in larger communities, but you don’t get the same type of education in a bigger school. In a small town, the whole community is invested in your child. There’s a deeper education for your child,” she said.

That deeper connection is what always led Selvey back to Barnwell County.

Beloved Leader

In both Williston and Barnwell, Selvey tried to be the best leader possible.

“I wanted to always have that family feeling and give my teachers the support they needed. I want input from everyone,” said Selvey.

Much of her relationship-centered leadership style comes from Clamp, who she considers one of her greatest mentors.

“She always valued everyone’s input. She set high expectations but wanted us to have fun,” said Selvey of Clamp.

Clamp taught her team to leave their personal lives at the door once they got to school. This was so they could be the most effective teachers possible.

“Smile and bring a positive attitude. Commit your day to these children,” said Selvey.

Doing what was right for the students remained her top priority. While academics are very important, Selvey said it’s also important to support the whole child.

“Every child comes in here wanting to be loved and heard. If you do those things for a child, the education can follow,” said Selvey.

Even middle schoolers love a hug and being heard. When she was a WEMS teacher, she would eat lunch with 8th graders to build a relationship. While other teachers struggled to have those same students complete their work, she said the students always completed her assignments because they knew she cared.

Selvey tried to instill those same principles in her teams over her two decades in leadership. It was appreciated and accepted.

“Selvey has been a great principal. She has always been open-minded and fair, yet willing to make the tough calls needed to make sure the teachers and students were taken care of at all times,” said BPS teacher Heather Chambers.

BPS teacher Rachel Hair said Selvey has taken care of her since she started eight years ago.

“She has done all the things a principal is supposed to do like give me guidance when needed, handle situations that were beyond my ability, showed appreciation for me, supported me, and allowed me to do my job. She also became a friend who supported me through hard times like when my dad had cancer or when I went through great loss. She always says, ‘I'm here for ya girl.’ I know she means that and she would check on me through each situation. I am thankful I was able to have her as a boss that I admire and respect. However, I am even more thankful to have her as a friend that I have so much love for as well,” said Hair.

That sentiment was echoed by other teachers as well, including Masey Mathias.

“Ms. Selvey was there for the kids as well as the teachers. I felt very supported by her and that can’t be said of every administrator. I feel very fortunate that I was able to work for her for 8 years. She became more than a boss in that time, she is a friend,” said Mathias.

BPS teacher Dionne Bennett-Scully has had four principals during her career, but said Selvey surpassed them all.

“As a teacher from a different country (Jamaica), I witnessed firsthand Ms. Selvey's love and dedication to her staff and the students. She always made me feel comfortable. I was always terrified whenever the time came around for teachers to be assessed. However, I never felt that way when Ms. Selvey came into my room. Sometimes she would even join in the lesson being taught,” said Bennett-Scully, who will miss Selvey’s smile and jokes.

Barnwell School District 45 Superintendent Dr. Crissie Stapleton has known Selvey for nearly 20 years. The two worked together at KEES when Selvey was principal and Stapleton was a teacher.

“She is a true legend in education. She is one of those rare individuals born to be a leader and called to touch the lives of countless children. I have no doubt this was her calling, and I thank God for bringing her into my life and the lives of all of the staff members, students, and families she has touched throughout the course of her career,” said Stapleton, who will lead the new Barnwell County School District once consolidation takes effect July 1.

In fact, Stapleton credits Selvey with leading her to pursue administration, leading her to become assistant principal, assistant superintendent and now superintendent. Just as Clamp was a role model and mentor to Selvey, Selvey became the same thing for Stapleton.

“Her leadership has made a lasting mark on all of us who have had the honor of working with her, and her legacy will continue to inspire all of those who have been impacted by her guidance,” said Stapleton.

Like many of her colleagues, BPS teacher Beverly Anderson said she will miss Selvey as a boss because she's been the best principal she's ever had. However, she's also been a good friend, which will continue after retirement.

Retiring in Style

The staff of BPS celebrated their leader during the last week of school.

Each day featured food, costumes, music, decorations, and fun themed around one of Selvey's favorite movies, such as "The Lion King", “Toy Story”, and "Star Wars".

“She is a 6-year-old at heart, so we themed our days with some of her favorite movies. It has been a blast!” said Amy Bozard, Save the Children program coordinator.

“I appreciate the effort they put in to make that last week really special. Each day was a surprise,” said Selvey.

Prior to each day, Selvey had to guess which movie would be featured the next day based on a clue. The staff also gave her a package to open each night that contained the attire she needed to wear.

On May 24, the last day of school, a "Grease"-themed parade was held. Music from the movie played as guidance counselor Ashlee Lemon chauffeured Selvey in a yellow Thunderbird convertible along the road behind the school. Selvey was greeted by students and staff who lined up outside of the school with signs, festive hats, pom-poms, and other festive items to show their appreciation to Selvey. Several teachers dressed up as characters from "Grease" and followed behind the car in the parade.

New Chapter

Though Selvey will miss the staff, students and parents from her BPS family, she is ready to spend more time with her own family, particularly her seven grandkids.

Retirement will also end a long daily commute for Selvey, who sold her house in Barnwell nearly two years ago. She’s since had a three-hour roundtrip commute from Leesville, where she’s living with her daughter and three of her grandkids.

“I’m ready to be a full-time grandma. You miss a lot when you are working,” said Selvey.

On one of her final workdays, she wore a shirt that read: “Retired: Under new management. See grandchildren for schedule.”

Though leadership changes can make staff nervous, Selvey said she’s confident the school is in good hands with new principal Jared Thrasher. He comes to BPS from Barnwell High School where he’s served as assistant principal.

“He is a very caring, Christian guy. I think it’s going to be an easy transition,” said Selvey.

The two have spent the last few weeks working together to prepare for the transition.

As she enters her new chapter of retirement, Selvey said Barnwell County will always hold a special place in her heart.