Rob Bliss – Class of 1985
Principal, South Caldwell High School, Hudson, NC
“From the time I was born, I knew nothing else other than school,” remembers Rob Bliss. “When my parents brought me home from the hospital, it was to a house literally on the campus of Hildebran High School. I was born in the afternoon, and my dad coached a game that night. When East Burke was being built, I often went with my dad and others to see the progress. We watched the stadium being constructed right before our eyes.”
For more than thirty years, Rob has taught, coached, and worked in administration at a number of schools and currently serves as the principal of South Caldwell High School in Hudson.
“After graduating from Appalachian State University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science degree in history and a certification in education, I started my first job at West Caldwell High School, where I taught history and served as an assistant coach for football and basketball. The following year, I was able to come home to East Burke, where I remained for three years, followed by three years at Freedom High. In 1996, I moved to Brevard High School for my first job as a head basketball coach.”
Like so many others, Rob’s initial goal turned onto another path because of family. “I had grown up wanting to be a college basketball coach. Today, college coaches can recruit players by watching videos, using Zoom and Facetime. But in the past, coaches made a phone call and set up a visit with the student. Many days were spent on the road away from home. When my son was born, I realized that staying on the road would not be the best life for me, so I found purpose in high school athletics.
“In 1999, I came home again to East Burke, where I had many duties including athletic director, head basketball coach, and assistant football coach, as well as assistant principal for the last half year I was there. It was while I was doing all these jobs at East Burke that I began working on my Master of Arts in School Administration through Gardner Webb University, which I completed in 2008. When I look back on that time, I wonder how I was able to do so many things at one time.”
In 2006, Rob moved on to West Henderson High School in Hendersonville, where he remained for five years. His tasks were the same ones that he was accustomed to: athletic director, head basketball coach, assistant football coach. “It was during that time when my mother, Barbara Bliss, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and I thought it would be best to move closer to home. So I accepted the positions of athletic director, assistant principal, head basketball coach, and assistant football coach at Fred T. Foard High School in Newton. I loved it there. I had a great team, and we were doing well. After three years at Foard, the superintendent of Catawba County Schools called me and said that he needed me to be principal at Maiden High School.
“I must confess that I did not enjoy administration at first. It was very different from the classroom or from the athletic court or field. I was very hesitant to take the position, and as soon as I arrived, I realized that the job was much bigger than I expected it to be. I think 95% of principals would agree that their experience moving into a principal’s position was similar to mine. Fortunately, it turned out to be a blessing, and I came to love being at Maiden High School and the wonderful people who worked alongside me. I believe it was God working through the superintendent who brought me down this path. I stayed at Maiden until 2019 when I retired after 30 years in education.”
Not being a person who likes to sit still, Rob took a job with a company called Custom Designer. His duties were to sell sports equipment, uniforms, “anything and everything relating to sports,” to schools all over Western North Carolina. “It involved traveling, but I enjoyed it very much.”
But Rob was not to remain in the sales field. “I received another call asking if I would help out temporarily as principal at South Caldwell High. I agreed, and my duties began just before the schools shut down for Covid in the spring of 2020. All of the parts that I had enjoyed about being a principal were instantly gone, and all of the parts I liked the least were multiplied. Zoom meetings were not my favorite thing. I like direct interaction with people so much more, and that was the thing we had to avoid! I don’t enjoy sitting in my office; I much prefer being out and dealing with people in their environment.
“That’s’ when Bandys High School in Catawba, NC, called and asked if I would coach basketball and golf for a year. So I agreed. I retired again in 2021. But I felt like I had no purpose and was miserable without a job. I began applying for positions in South Carolina and had actually agreed to go when I got the call in September 2021 to come back to South Caldwell.
“Being the principal of a large high school like South Caldwell, which averages about 1400 students, and a smaller high school like Maiden, which has about 800 students, is very different. At Maiden, I knew everything that was going on and could work more closely with individuals, but now I have to trust my faculty teams more because it is impossible for one person to do it all. Fortunately, those teams are capable and caring and do a great job. Today’s world is far different than it was when I was growing up. In addition to the fun activities we all see, high schools have become places that must advocate for young people who have issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, and physical and emotional abuse in the home. Our community is very supportive and helpful in tackling these challenges, and we do meaningful work in that area.
“I hope that people see that I’m honest and fair to everyone no matter the situation. Sometimes it is difficult knowing that the student may have challenging situations, but I do try to be consistent. Fairness and consistency are important with everyone but especially with young people. They need to know that they need to be responsible citizens or there will be repercussions. On the other hand, they will be much more successful in life if they behave in a respectful and dependable way.
“I have always made a point to tell my students that, no matter what their career choices may be, they are 99% in the people business. If people have been treated well, they will call on you again. Don’t ever leave an unfavorable impression with someone because you are likely to see that person again in some other capacity. It’s important to try to get young people to think down the road toward the future and not just act in the moment.
“Since East Burke had been the center of my existence, it was really difficult to leave and move on to other positions. I owe a lot of my philosophy and my outlook on life to others. My parents, Bob and Barbara Bliss, were naturally the two biggest influences in my life. My dad spent most of his life as a coach, and I saw firsthand the societal demands on coaches. If there was a game scheduled, he had to be there, so when I became a coach, I knew what was expected of me. My mother was a much-admired teacher who gave her all to her students. She was my ‘go to’ whenever I had a question or a problem. She was always there ready to listen.
“I knew Coach Danny Williams since I was a child. He and my dad often played golf together, so he was certainly no stranger when I reached high school. Coach Wayne Fletcher was a big part of my life, and when I got the chance to work under him, it was a privilege. Once when I managed to get placed in a general English class instead of a college prep level, Anne Stephens told me she would not make me change classes but she expected me to do higher level work, and I appreciate how she motivated me to learn. Sam Wilkinson was one of the best teachers I have ever had, and I would try to sign up for his classes whenever I could. He was a real role model for my future career as a history teacher. His classes were interesting and enjoyable, but he managed to always keep our focus in the right direction. Andy Anderson has been one of my most important lifelong advisors. Any time I have a decision to make, he is one of the people I always call for advice. It’s important to have people like that in your life. I also list Terry Rogers, longtime coach at Freedom High, as another person I have looked up to and learned from.
“I can truthfully say that I never had a bad experience with any teacher at East Burke. I have never worked in a bad school or for a bad principal. Every place, every school, has its own identity. Students don’t usually see that, but adults certainly can. I have worked in many schools, but East Burke is different, unique. I see it as having an ‘us’ environment. Right from the start we were a family, and that spirit has continued to this day. It’s a special place.
“I am presently in my thirty-fourth year in education, and I’m very happy with what I am doing. I will probably do this until I feel that I am no longer relevant. We have accomplished much here at South Caldwell, but we have much left to do. Working with this great faculty and staff, I know that we are making a difference. And I know that no matter where life takes me, I will never ‘not’ work.”
With this mind set, work ethic, and experience, Rob is another example of a tried-and-true Cavalier who is making a real difference in his community and in the world.
Published Febuary 2024