‘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.

 

Search training to keep schools safe

At times it’s a little scary to learn about the new ways individuals are hiding weapons. The Washington County Department of Education has partnered with the Sheriff’s Office for the past three years to give its administrators the tools needed to do proper searches while the students are on campus.

Workshop provides search training to help keep schools safe

Published Feb. 4, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

The Washington County Department of Education is partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to provide its staff with the correct training on how to search students.

“We feel like that is one area that schools should cover — the  proper searching of students in the school setting,” Assistant Director of Schools for Attendance and Discipline James Murphy said.

Murphy said the Supreme Court has maintained that students do not shed their constitutional rights when on a school campus.

In order to have a safe environment, however, students can be searched under reasonable suspicion, Murphy said. That is a lower standard set by the courts than what is generally accepted on the streets, he added, which requires a search warrant or probable cause.

All administrators for Washington County schools are required to have search training.

“We keep a list of new administrators coming in and we make sure, periodically, that every administrator in the school system has had this training,” Murphy said.

A two-hour search workshop was held on Jan. 23 for 38 school employees at Asbury Optional High School in Johnson City.

“Some schools have not had a change since their administrators had the course. We didn’t require them to come,” he said. “But we did ask every school to send someone.”

Some schools sent guidance counselors and teachers, Murphy added.  School Resource Officers also participated in the training.

Every Washington County school has a resource officer assigned, with some officers assigned to two or three schools, Murphy said.

During the training, participants are given a list of the type of school searches that could be done, as well as a list of forbidden searches on school campuses. Examples were then provided through role play.

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the search workshop shows staff how to do a pat down safely in the different quadrants of the body, as well as how to protect themselves. He said two people should always be present during a pat down.

Another part of the training focuses on types of weapons, as well as the styles of clothing used to hide them. “We try to cover every scenario that we have run into,” Graybeal said.

In one exercise, 37 weapons, both guns and knives, were hidden for participants to find. That exercise is important, Graybeal said, because some weapons can look as innocent as a pen.

Since some of the clothing also have pouches to hide guns, he said they showed how to look for weapons in that scenario.

Murphy said there are essentially two school searches that are done.

“A good legal school search would be divided into two major areas, which is the jacket search with pockets turned out and the other search, which is rarely ever done, would be a pat down,” he said.

The most common search, Murphy said is a jacket and pocket search.

“We don’t encourage pat downs. Pat downs are not necessary unless there is a real substantial fear that the student has a weapon,” he said.

An exercise involving a backpack was also held during the workshop to show how to proceed once it is laid down on a table.

The importance of noticing the out-of-the-ordinary is also stressed. If someone shows up wearing a coat during the summer months, Graybeal said, it should be investigated.

The workshop, he said, is about showing school staff what is out there and how to look for certain items.

“It’s a good course, it’s very informative of what to look for and how to look for it,” Graybeal said. “It was a good day for us, a good informative day.”

Murphy said the workshop also included instruction on verbal judo by Dr. Ginger Christian. The technique teaches true listening, hearing what a person is saying and diffusing the anger.

“Occasionally in the school system, we have parents who are upset, sometimes upset by someone else,” Murphy said.

“We need to learn how to listen to them and address their concerns without becoming emotionally involved.”

Graybeal said the workshops are held upon the schools’ request.

He said the WCSO appreciates the opportunity to work with the Washington County schools to help them stay safe.

‘One purpose, One mission, One passion’

Here is a feel good story that I wrote for the Herald & Tribune about teachers in the Washington County Department of Education receiving grants totalling $20,000. A special ceremony was held for them last week, which gave them all an opportunity to share how they will utilize the grant money in their classroom to further the education of their students.  

Innovative teachers receive Quest awards

Published Jan. 21, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

Seven grants totalling $20,000 were given to teachers of the Washington County Department of Education last week during a special ceremony sponsored by the Quest Foundation.

Quest Foundation President James Harlan told the recipients that it was a privilege to be there on behalf of the foundation.

“We have just one purpose, one mission, one passion, that is to enhance education and learning in Washington County schools,” Harlan said. “We do that at the classroom level.”

The Quest Foundation has made grants to 21 classrooms in 10 schools over the last three years for more than $64,000. Last Wednesday, it added another $20,000 to the foundation’s grant total.

“The last three years have been a journey for Quest,” Harlan said. “Over $84,000 has been put back in our schools to start that lifetime of learning.”

He went on to say that it is rewarding to put that amount of money back in classrooms.

“That’s the kind of good news that makes this community, this city, a place where it is fun to live,” Harlan said. “We live in a very generous area. We care about other people and care about children.”

The foundation provides grant money for programs and materials that are otherwise unavailable to Washington County teachers. Harlan said the board looks for innovative ideas to enhance preschool to 12th-grade curriculum with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Harlan said for most educators at the ceremony, being a teacher was all they ever wanted to do.

“Education is the thing that fundamentally differentiates the United States from the rest of the world,” he said. “We have, in the United States, a lot of things against us in terms of being competitive in the world. One thing that levels the playing field is education. That starts right here in Washington County.”

Harlan recalled a fond memory of when he was in third grade and a teacher who sparked his interest and made learning fun.

“Learning to read is fundamental to what these teachers are communicating to their students and what becomes a lifetime of learning,” he said.

Grant recipients included: Robert St. John and David Yates from David Crockett High School who received $1,774 for their project “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

The grant money will help the teachers purchase an aerial photography system that will be integrated between the media and CAD department, as well as the biology department.

Cindy McAvoy, a 6th- grade math teacher at Lamar School, received $1,709 for her project “Parents as Learning Partners – Partnerships Today that Create Success Tomorrow.”

McAvoy said many parents have shared their concern about wanting to help their children with their math, but the parents do not know how. Thanks to the grant, she will now be able to offer a workshop that provides ideas and ways for parents to support their children.

Rachel Horn and Mike Taylor of Daniel Boone High School received $3,600 for their project “Improving Student Learning with 21st Century Data-Collection Technology.” The teachers teach AP physics and physical science.

Horn said the grant will allow them to buy lab equipment for students to craft data in real time during their experiments in physics.

Twana McKinney and the David Crockett High School science department received $4,727 for the project “Technology and Common Core.”

McKinney said they will also receive equipment that will provide real-time data for students to use as evidence for reference in writing skills.

Penny Elliot Lowe, a 5th-grade math teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $4,500 for her project “Addressing the Learning Gap in Mathematics using iPads.”

She said she did not have an iPad until last year and was amazed with what it could do. Lowe said she saw many opportunities for using the iPad in the classroom.

“(I can) use the iPads as another way to have a deep engagement with what we are doing in mathematics,” she said, adding that students can develop their own math presentations.

Kristie Payne, a third- grade teacher at Fall Branch Elementary, received $1,689 for her project “I want to be a Mathematician.”

She said the grant will fund iPads for her students, which will allow them the opportunity to develop key mathematical concepts through the use of technology. Payne said there are many apps that help students take concrete mathematical applications and apply them abstractly.

Jackie Mumpower, a 3rd- grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $2,000 for her project “Transforming 21st Century Education through Laptops.”

She said her students will use the laptops to create PowerPoint presentations. Harlan said the amount of grants they are not able to fully fund is the reason the foundation continues to raise money.