Principal Road Trip Day 8: Georgia

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September 25, 2018

I was looking forward to Monday morning!
I ventured into the great state of Georgia on Saturday to position myself close to Warner Robins, where I would be visiting Shirley Hills Elementary and Westside Elementary in the Houston County Schools.
Throughout the trip, I have felt a special kinship to the educators I have met, and my visit to both of the school districts continued that trend.
I was greeted by principal Dr. Traci Jackson and several wonderful representatives from the district’s central offices. I was immediately struck by the level of support they provide to their schools – a hallmark of truly exceptional schools. They underlined the importance of supporting principals and teachers, as they are key to serving the children of the district.

Shirley Hills Elementary is branded as the “Wild Mustangs” – a theme that is readily apparent when you enter their lunchroom. I was half expecting a John Wayne look-a-like to be serving breakfast to the children! 
The lunchroom also provides students a venue for remediation on specific skills. Dr. Jackson and other staff support grade levels in the morning by providing this opportunity. You can see to the right some of the skills the students had worked on during Friday’s session.

High expectations are on display in the lobby, as the district has posted their graduation rates – underlining the critical role that the elementary schools serve for the students to cross the finish line in 12th grade.

Dr. Jackson’s school, in addition to the morning intervention mentioned earlier, also has teachers target specific skills in the morning after the students arrive.  
Shirley Hills has a published children’s author ... and the author is NOT a staff member. The child was a kindergarten student who wrote and illustrated the book “Barky the Mouse.” This set the bar that other students are attempting to reach. BTW, the student is now in first grade and is already working on a second book!
Dr. Jackson enthusiastically shares some activities that make Shirley Hills a special school.


On to Westside

Westside Elementary, also in Houston County Schools, is a short 15-minute drive from Dr. Jackson’s school. I was immediately greeted by Dr. Cynthia Hammond.
Dr. Hammond’s personal story does not follow the traditional trend most of us followed. She began her career as a police officer but was led to the profession after a profound experience as a law enforcement officer.

During our visit together, she stressed the importance that Title funds have for her school’s children. She shared that her school has extremely high poverty, but in the same breath says that Westside Elementary holds the children to high standards.
Westside leverages STEM activities through a student-run greenhouse, a hydroponics program and raised planters on the school grounds. The students use a portion of the bounty for the school’s lunch program, but also donate a portion to the local community to assist in feeding those in need.  

In addition, the students of Westside also participate in the Connect to Protect Program that supports “pollinators in small spaces, one planting at a time.”

I had an opportunity to read “The Cat in the Hat” to students and then ran across this awesome reading area in the school! It’s hard to see but had a CIH/Seuss theme! Fantastic and very engaging!

Dr. Hammond shares her thoughts on a critical issue facing schools in the United States.

Thank you to all my friends that I met today at Houston County Schools! I appreciate your hospitality!

Heading Down to Upson-Lee

The next stop on the Georgia leg of the tour was Upson-Lee Middle School in Thomaston. Again, as throughout the tour, I was touched by the reception, with many folks meeting me from Thomaston-Upson’s Central Office, along with building staff and students. 
The school is led by Rhonda Gulley. They are a 1:1 school that offers a full cadre of programs to students – from strong academics to a great arts program. I even had an opportunity to hear their wonderful band play. A key component of the strong academic program is common planning time for all grade level teachers to work collaboratively.

Superintendent Dr. Larry Derico, in his first year at the helm of the district, established three key priorities for the district for this year: school safety, literacy (students hitting on grade level or higher on assessments) and relationships with students and community.
In regard to school safety, the district has a school resource officer in ALL buildings – which is a commendable accomplishment!
Their area, like many communities across the United States, was hit hard when the local textile industries closed. However, in true community spirit, the school has served as a rallying point for the residents. The school’s athletic program has unified the community and served as a point of pride, with the boys basketball program winning back-to-back state championships. To drive through the community, it is readily apparent the level of support the school enjoys.
PBIS serves as a cornerstone for Upson-Lee Middle School as they strive to create lifelong learners.
A final point of pride for the school is the newly renovated library that more closely resembles a college campus.

Principal Gulley shares points of pride for the Upson-Lee Middle School.

Eric Cardwell, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, is driving 4,500 miles through seven states during his two-week road trip. At each school, Eric will meet with the principal and learn about the great things going on at that school. Most recently, he was principal at Besser Elementary in Alpena, MI.
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