What brought you to education and what makes you stay?
With 3 young children back in the 90’s I believed that education was the best way to transition back to work from being a stay-at-home mom and still have the opportunity to spend time with my girls. I looked at teaching and thought: summers off, leave every day at 3 and never have to work a weekend, I can have it all! How young and naive was I? Nevertheless, it was still the best career choice, even after all the harsh realities set in.
I have stayed the course because I believe in what we do, I believe what we do matters, and I believe this is a field that will never become stagnant, because let’s face it, no two days (or new laws) are ever the same.
What do you most want to accomplish during your superintendency? What obstacles stand in your way and how do you plan to overcome them?
I would like to see our district become an academically high performing district. As it stands, we have one small and isolated school that has been recognized as a school of distinction. I am super proud of that, but one is simply not enough.
Of course, it’s one thing to say something isn’t acceptable, and quite another to do something about it. As we look at barriers, I’d have to say two things come to mind: the lack of qualified teachers, and parental/community support.
While I appreciate all the new pathways to becoming a teacher, I have reservations about the mindset that seems to be it is a job that anyone can do. These new applicants may drive our candidate numbers up, but surely exacerbate the lack of highly qualified instructional personnel. To combat this, we are providing more professional learning opportunities to our new teachers led by our teacher leaders. We have also expanded our peer teacher and mentor programs and begun a “Grow Your Own” program with the addition of our Early Childhood Education program.
The current lack of parental/community support is one that I feel is at an all-time high. I feel much of this can be attributed to the media, as well as what appears to be an attempt to defund and dismantle the public education system. The push to de-professionalize teaching, coupled with mandates and legislation alleging that we (public schools) teach divisive and inappropriate content, seems to create a sense of distrust between parents and schools. To combat these misconceptions, we are working on providing more family engagement activities, flooding our social media with positive promotions, utilizing our parent communication portal to provide immediate releases when situations arise, and overall, just learning to brand and craft who we want to be as a district, which includes building a warm, welcoming and collaborative culture.
What is your main area of focus for this year?
Ten years ago, my first answer would have been to bolster student achievement. Of course, that will always be a main area of focus. Today, however, my biggest focus is the safety and security of our students. Not just the physical, but their mental well-being as well. Every school begins each day with four rounds of box-breathing and a “gut-check” for students. This doesn’t take long, but it allows our teachers to gauge where each student is and who might need some extra care before diving into the curriculum. Really, just applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, because we all know that they can’t learn if their basic needs haven’t been met. In addition, each class participates in “Wellness Wednesdays”. Here our teachers are using community circles to apply resiliency standards and work on building classroom communities. The idea is that students are more likely to make good choices and be less reactive in classrooms where clearly established norms have been created and relationships have been built.
Last year was the first year of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program in Taylor; describe how this program is working, and the benefits to Taylor County Schools.
This program is growing, and our students and teachers are seeing a dual benefit. Our younger students are thrilled to have a high school student take interest in them and help them develop their skills. At the same time, these tutors are learning the value of mentorship, and hopefully, beginning to consider this as a future career option for themselves.
Besides the ECE program, how are you working to recruit and retain staff?
We are continuing to collaborate with colleges, offering tuition reimbursement, exploring apprenticeship programs, and working with current paraprofessionals to continue their education. In addition, we offer child-care incentives, and always explore creative ways to bolster teacher-pay.
What do you think is the most important skill for a superintendent to develop?
I would have to say that good communication skills are at the top of the list. Being an effective communicator takes a lot of practice and ensuring that what is perceived is what was intended can be tricky sometimes.
What do you most want students to remember from their time in school?
The overall experience, the good and bad times, because it is the totality of these experiences that will ultimately shape who they become.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
I absolutely love my family. My husband and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary this year. Together we have 4 daughters, two that are engaged, and one that is married and expecting our first grandchild in just a few weeks!
Individual you admire most for their positive impact on public education:
My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Croft. She instilled in each of her students that we were all loved, valued, and really could do anything we wanted, if we were willing to work for it.