‘Most effective schools in Tennessee’

I have always enjoyed interviewing educators over the years, especially when they are honored for what they have done for their students. This principal’s accomplishment’s were brought to my attention during a board meeting I was covering for the Washington County Board of Education in Jonesborough, Tennessee. After pitching the story idea to my editor, I ran with the story. Read what this Boones Creek Elementary School principal accomplished.

Boones Creek principal recognized by board for making a difference

Published in the Herald & Tribune June 17, 2014 issue

An educator of 44 years — 20 of which were spent at Boones Creek Elementary School as the principal ­ — was honored with the Director of Schools “Made a Difference Award” earlier this month.

Director of Schools Ronald Dykes said Boones Creek Elementary has been recognized by the Education Consumer’s Foundation as one of the most effective schools in Tennessee on seven different occasions.

The key to that award, he said, is Principal Teresa Leonard, who was the principal during those designations.

Dykes said they have never had any other school receive such a distinguished honor by the Education Consumer’s Foundation in the Washington Department of Education school system.

Leonard, who grew up in West Virginia, graduated from Marshall University with a teaching degree. The first year and a half of her career was spent in West Virginia. After moving to Tennessee, she was hired by the Washington County Department of Education and spent time working at the Boones Creek and Daniel Boone schools.

After accepting the award at the June 5 meeting of the WCDE board meeting, she recalled moving into an apartment close to Daniel Boone when she began teaching there as an art teacher.

Leonard said she earned her master’s degree in supervision and administration from East Tennessee State University, which helped further her career in Washington County.

She was the assistant principal at Boones Creek Elementary School for five years before becoming the principal.

“I always wanted to be a principal because I could affect the education of children more that way,” Leonard said.

One of the many highlights of her career was receiving the designation of the most effective school in Tennessee seven different times.

Leonard said the Education Consumers Foundation is a nonprofit agency that collects test score data in Tennessee. She said in order to be eligible, a principal has to be at the same school for five years.

The latest data recorded on the foundation’s website was for the yearly achievement gain between 2011 and 2013. Boones Creek Elementary School was ranked third in the state of Tennessee, behind Mcpheeters Bend Elementary School in Hawkins County and Dresden Elementary in Weakley County. The growth index for Boones Creek was 10.95.

“I’m thrilled because you are all the time thinking you are doing what is right, the best you can, but until you get that wonderful feeling that (the students are showing) three times as much growth, that let’s you know that you are on the right track,” Leonard said.

Leonard said one of the things she was told was principals in successful schools have high expectations.

Throughout her time at Boones Creek Elementary School, Leonard promoted the concept of working as a team.

“We work together and I guess that is probably what makes us a little different,” she said.

Her teachers have a common planning time for each grade level where they discuss lesson plans for that day. Leonard said every day is different, and sometimes lesson plans have to be altered to revisit yesterday’s lesson on phonics.

“It’s like a ball team. Everyone works together and that is important,” she said.

The teamwork was also accomplished through an accelerated reader goal of 15,000 points for all of the students. Leonard said this past year, her students reached 15,500 points, surpassing the goal by 500 points.

The principal’s promise, another school-wide team working strategy, is what Leonard pledges she will do if the goal is met. This year she was the lifeguard for the dunking machine, which put the assistant principal sitting on the ledge above the water in the dunk machine.

“It helps motivate them as a whole school,” she said of the principal’s promise.

In years past, Leonard said, she promised to kiss the top of a pig’s head, stay in a jail located in the lobby of the school and be slimed by the students.

“The teachers said that school-wide goals get everyone excited and everyone works together,” she said.

Every Friday, the students participate in a Math Fun Fact timed test, which tests them on subtraction, addition, multiplication and division.

“These are the things you are going to remember the rest of your life,” Leonard said. “We shouldn’t have to use a calculator to estimate the number of chairs in a row.”

The results from the weekly test are given to Leonard by each teacher, so she can review them and praise the students who knew the answers so quickly.

She said it has also been important to her to review all of her 500 students’ report cards, so she can be familiar with the students’ academics and their names.

“To me, that makes you familiar with every student and the needs — as far as an administration — to help teachers with a certain subject,” she said.

To help raise grades, after school tutoring for math and reading are offered, which Leonard oversaw.

After a fulfilling career, Leonard retired at the end of the school year. She said her and her husband will have more time to travel now that she is retired.