PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – History was made in the Pickens County School District when a Black woman was named principal of Forest Acres Elementary School.

Forest Acres Elementary School has been around since 1966, around the time desegregation occurred in the state. Since then, a Black person has not held the role in the district.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity. I really am. But as far as how it makes me feel, I think that this is bigger than me, and I would have to keep going back to that because there were so many that was before me, that wanted to break the barriers and glass ceilings for African Americans to be in leadership,” Principal Dr. Ashley Anderson-Murray said.

Principal Dr. Ashley Anderson-Murray said she will use her platform to assist the district superintendent with his mission to bring more diversity and inclusion to all schools through recruitment.

“I’m excited about being the face of it. However, I know there’s much work yet to be done to make sure all places, schools specifically, are inclusive environments so that students can see role models that emulate what they see when they look in the mirror,” Dr. Anderson-Murray said.

Dr. Anderson-Murray also wants to focus on mentoring children inside and outside of her school walls.

“My main goal has been and will always be children first,” Dr. Anderson-Murray said. “This moment in history for Pickens County, and for myself as well, has caused me to think about okay, what can I do to take this a step further,” she said. “So I would have to say mentorship would have to be something that’s at the forefront of my mind right now. How I can extend this and make it about more children outside of our building, and including those that are here. But within our county,” Anderson-Murray said.

The new principal said it’s not about her title. It’s about living out her purpose. She wants to help women, too.

“I know that that’s kind of her claim to fame right now for people, but if you could be here every day and see how much she loves the children, and how strong she is in instruction and curriculum, that’s what makes her Dr. Murray,” Forest Acres Elementary School Instructional Coach Tracy Brandt said.

“She’s got such a compassionate heart. She just has a heart for the children, and she loves them and you can see that in everything that she does,” Forest Acres Elementary School Librarian and Media Specialist Leah Gannon said.

“I’m hoping this will open the door for many more minority educators to be able to be in leadership roles, so that we can all have a seat at the table,” Dr. Anderson-Murray said. “Just like getting to this role, I’ve interviewed multiple places, for multiple principalships before I gained this one here, and I got a lot of no’s. But your no doesn’t mean it’s indefinite. It means not yet. So I would encourage my children, as I would all the children at Forest Acres, is that a no doesn’t mean that’s final,” she said.

Dr. Anderson-Murray encourages everyone to keep pushing to break barriers and bring about change.

“My mom died of cancer when I was two years old, and my father was not an active part of my life, so I didn’t have the traditional story. So my message to them would be even shattered pieces can turn into a beautiful story, and that’s exactly what my life has been,” she concluded.

Previously, Dr. Anderson-Murray was serving as the interim principal at Forest Acres Elementary since December. She joined the school as the assistant principal back in 2018. The mother of three also taught at other schools in the Upstate. She also held roles on the collegiate level.