Russell County educator retires after 54 years in public education
RUSSELL COUNTY, Va. - A long-time southwest Virginia community servant is stepping down to get back to his roots in farming. This will be the first school year in a half-decade that Steve Banner will not be with Russell County Schools. It was not always Steve Banner's dream to go into education. In fact, his goal after high school was agriculture at Virginia Tech. A baseball scholarship to Lincoln-Memorial University sent him on a fast-track to a teaching and coaching job in Russell County. "So they hired me I couldn't sign a contract, but I couldn't sign a contract until after I turned 21 in July," Banner said. The Castlewood native picked up the Virginia High School League's first state baseball championship title in 1971. "The crown jewel in my career was my baseball coaching," Banner said. As Banner's family grew in the early years, he went back to school to become a principal. It was during that time, he also found another calling in alternative education. "When I was a high school principal, if they misbehaved, if they were tardy, if they had problems, all I could do was send them home and suspend them," Banner told us. Banner said his goal was to find a way to help students succeed. For more than 20 years, he served as the county's alternative education director. "We saved a lot of kids. We got them degrees. We got them GEDs. We kept them in school until they got their certificates." Superintendent Greg Brown said the center now serves about 20 students each year in morning and afternoon sessions. "It's one of the most robust programs I've seen," Brown said. "We have the opportunity to get more interaction in an one-one setting. It is a strong legacy left for a small-town southwest Virginia farmer. "I'm back to where I started years and years ago. I finally got back to agriculture, but it took 34 years to get back to it." Banner retired in July, wrapping up his 54th year in public education. Banner has also served southwest Virginia with the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the county Industrial Development Authority. He will still also get to enjoy baseball. His son is the baseball coach for the UVA-Wise Cavaliers.