As I write this, my heart is heavy and I feel like I took a punch to the gut. As we have watched COVID-19 cases and deaths climb, I have tried not to become numb to them. However, I must admit that this all came home to me last week. These numbers represent real people, and each and every one of them deserve to be mourned. Last week, I learned that a very special person has died from COVID-19 complications, Dr. Candice Highfield.
Candice was an outstanding social worker in the Hempfield School District and was one of our team’s first hires after moving in service to the district. Candice was our first school social worker and set an extremely high bar — not only for Hempfield, but for surrounding districts.
She was a staunch advocate for our students and their families and did all she could to remove barriers to learning. With her leadership, we established a clothing bank and started a Hempfield Cares fund that was largely financed through the generous support of district employees. This fund was used to provide gift cards for gasoline, transportation and food, as well as furniture and other necessities for our families.
Candice had a heart of gold, but also a spine of steel. For anyone who thought they may take advantage of the generosity of our staff and funds, Candice let them know assertively that this would not happen. She provided both generosity and accountability.
More than a few times, Candice sought out our sponsors through the Market Street Sports Group, who provided funding to the district in return for naming rights and district advertisements. She persuaded them to provide, gratis, such help as hooking up a new stove for a family. In one instance, she convinced a sponsor to shore up a trailer that was the home of a student. She sat in that trailer as cockroaches were literally falling from the ceiling and realized that this student needed help.
Candice represented all that is good about the staff at Hempfield. She worked more hours than required and continually went above and beyond what was expected. She took on every challenge and would give her all to help students succeed.
To say she will be missed sounds almost trite. Her legacy is one of love, dedication and caring. To her family, friends and colleagues, I extend my most profound sympathy and caring. There is nothing I can say that will negate the loss we all feel, but I sincerely hope everyone in the education community, both at Hempfield and in other Lancaster County districts, will continue to do all they can to remain safe, take care and support each other.
Brenda J. Smoker, Ed.D., now resides in Tucson, Arizona. Smoker (then Becker) retired as superintendent of Hempfield School District in June 2015.