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Sissy Parks retires after 45 years in education

Inspired by her cousin, long-time educator Ralph Askins, to pursue a teaching career, Sissy Motlow Parks is retiring after 45 years in education, concluding her career in the school building which bears her mentor’s name.

“My cousin, Ralph Askins, always encouraged me to become a teacher and a coach because I liked ball so well,” Parks recalled. “Then, there were all the mentors I had that coached me in ball, like Max Raby forever and Coach (Jimmy) Ellis – they all kind of influenced me into coaching.”

Parks attended Tennessee Tech from 1971 to 1975, accepting her first job with Central High School in Fayetteville where she stayed until the consolidated Lincoln County High School opened in 1979. She remained with the Lincoln County School System from 1975 until 1992.

During her tenure at LCHS, Parks coached and assisted in coaching girls’ basketball and cheerleading. She was instrumental in beginning the girls’ fast-pitch softball program at LCHS, building the program from the ground up. She and her husband, Glen, whom she married in 1983, helped build the first field for softball.

“I did it for no pay whatsoever,” she recalled of coaching the first girls’ softball teams. “I just wanted to get the program started. I kept asking them and saying, ‘Just let me get it started’.”

Because of her perseverance, the Lady Falcon softball program became a reality, seeing much success over the years since being established.

Parks remained active in coaching until the births of her daughters, Grey and Katie, after which she took a two-year break from coaching ball.

It was in 1992 that Parks came to Fayetteville City Schools, eventually picking up duties coaching girls’ basketball, track, cheerleading and soccer, even taking the golf team to matches a few times – “I’ve coached everything but football and baseball,” she said.

Parks later became a mentor to another Coach Parks, her daughter, Katie, after she joined Fayetteville City Schools as a teacher.

“When they started Fayetteville High School, Katie and I coached high school and middle school soccer,” she said. “Katie was head coach, and I was assistant coach.”

Looking back over the years as the sun sets on her career in education, Parks said there are too many good memories to pick a favorite.

“There are so many of them,” she said when asked to recall her favorite memory from four decades in education. “There are too many of them to pick a favorite. The fun times were coaching and all the success you saw your kids have and then the success you see them have as they’ve grown up. It’s been 45 years of fun.”

Parks ends her career in what she calls the most rewarding job, working at Ralph Askins School where she has been assistant principal.

“Probably the most rewarding place to teach is elementary,” she said. “I loved high school, but to me, this has probably been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. This age child needs somebody to give them a good greeting in the morning and get them off on the right foot. They come in with wide open arms and a smile every day, or you see them walking through the door and you can tell they’re upset, and the first thing you want to do is ask, ‘What’s wrong?’, ‘What happened this morning?’. They need things that sometimes we don’t realize they need – it might just be a hug or just listening.”

For new teachers coming into the field, Parks has this advice – “Patience, lots of patience, a lot of planning and learning to understand that you will make mistakes, and it’s okay to tell the kids, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ Learn your children. You need to learn everything about them, their background. If you can do that, you’re going to have a great climate in your classroom; you’re going to have a great year.”

Parks’ future plans include taking care of her youngest granddaughter until she begins pre-k the following school year and taking some time for herself. Sadly, she lost her husband, Glen, who died on April 23 of this year after an extended illness.

“I plan to relax eventually, enjoy life and hopefully do a little traveling with my girls,” she said.

She has two daughters, Grey, an equine specialist with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative who resides in Cookeville, and Katie, a teacher with Fayetteville City Schools. She has two granddaughters, the older a student at Ralph Askins School and the younger who will begin pre-k at Askins in the following school year.

While Parks is retiring from her role in administration, she’s not walking away from education completely. She hopes to secure a seat on the Fayetteville City Schools Board of Education in November’s election.

“I’m running for school board this year simply because I feel like they need somebody who has been in the trenches,” she said. “I’ve been there for 45 years. I’m hoping to bring some insight. I’ve worked with everyone from pre-k to seniors in high school, so I have an idea of what’s going on in every area.”

Folks will probably still spot Parks at Ralph Askins School occasionally when she visits to eat lunch with her granddaughter. She encourages members of the community to support the school system, especially in light of the challenges posed to all schools with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wish everybody well and hope that everybody would give the school system their support because they need it now more than ever,” Parks said. “I wish the whole community well, and I wish for a coming together because there’s no better time than right now for everybody to come together and do what’s right for these children.”