Principal Road Trip Days 6-7: Exploring Tennessee

Share this Article

  • Email

September 24, 2018

Walking up the sidewalk to Andrew Johnson Elementary in Kingsport, Tennessee I encountered a little free library close to the road. This was a great way to start the day!
Three students greeted me at the door along with Principal Stacy Edwards. Mr. Edwards explained that the students would provide the tour, and he would follow along.

Inside the main doors, the students explained that they were a “Leader in Me School” that places the students squarely in the role of assuming ownership in every facet of their school, including the wonderful students who served as my guides.
Areas in need of support are posted on a help wanted board where students can pick up a job application identifying the qualities that would make them a good candidate.

Students set classroom WIGs (Wildly Important Goals) along with classroom targets and they are posted prominently in the school. As I visited the music classroom, I noted that the classroom had WIGs posted there, as well! How awesome!


The teachers in the building take ownership for setting the stage for students in various aspects of the school, and it is also posted prominently in the school for all to see!
Aside from the Leader in Me, Johnson Elementary has a tremendous sensory room to support children.

Hear Principal Stacy Edwards comment about the professional game changer of his career. 

New Ideas in Old Hickroy

Four hours to the west of Kingsport was the next stop in Old Hickory located just outside of Nashville. Dr. Kevin Armstrong leads Dupont Hadley Middle School, but like at Andrew Johnson Elementary, I was met by two eighth-grade student ambassadors who led me on a tour of the middle school.  
Hadley has many progressive programs aside from offering eighth-grade classes that afford the opportunity for students to earn high school credit. They have a student government model that began this year that provides opportunity for students to bring up suggestions to be considered by Dr. Armstrong and the staff of Hadley.

In addition, they have Hadley Court, which offers an alternate route to traditional discipline practices. Students serve as judge, jury and bailiff as they hear cases and use restorative justice practices in dealing with their peers.
The facility of Hadley is being transformed to provide more of a college campus vibe with the library being renovated this past summer. In addition, students who are recognized for achievements are given the opportunity to eat lunch in a trendy lunch section of the school. It is readily evident that Dr. Armstrong has worked tirelessly with staff to continue to make the school a learning/social hub that is a “cool” place to be.


Classrooms, such as the eighth-grade science room, are NOT the rooms that you and I attended. They are engaging, and the student ambassadors were proud to show them to me. It was striking – and very heartening – to see the students take such pride in their school.
Students also have the opportunity to use alternate seating such as a pedal desk.  

I asked Dr. Armstrong if he was to boil it down to one item that is found in all effective schools.

The day did not end at Old Hickory, as Dr. Nancy Meador, Executive Director of the Tennessee Principals Association, shared the state’s new TPA offices with me. TPA and NAESP offer a variety of support for principals across the state of Tennessee.
Dr. Meador and I joined Scholastic for dinner as they were in Nashville for “NAESP/Scholastic Principals of Literacy Institute.” It was a great evening to connect with principals and the great people folks at Scholastic who support the work that we do.


Day 7 Starts in Collierville

Traveling to southwest Tennessee on Friday, the first stop was at Collierville Elementary School, led by Tyler Salyer. Tyler is in his second year of the principalship and is extremely enthusiastic about his Collierville Dragons! 
The school is filled with messages to drive the positive culture of the building while also having pictures of the students as a reminder to staff of the critical role that they play in the lives of children.  

The school strives to make connections for students with the outside world; each teacher has a short informational bio outside their classrooms.   
Of note, Collierville Elementary School provides STEM opportunities for all of their K-5 students each week with a dedicated teacher for the initiative. I particularly liked the quote that she had in her classroom. (I am a self-proclaimed “Star Wars” nerd!)


Students can reach their dreams! A great idea is to share those individuals who are alumni of your elementary building like Collierville Elementary does!

Tyler stresses the importance he places on trusting staff, acknowledging how large the position of the principalship is. This trust makes his school more robust.  
He is also proud that every school is provided a full-time school liaison officer who is paid for by the local police department. In addition to the safety aspect, he also appreciates the positive interactions that it provides and underscores to students that the police are in communities to protect.
Finally, Tyler’s school sends home dinners each night for students that might otherwise go hungry. This is coordinated through faith-based organizations within his community.

Mr. Salyer encourages legislatures to visit schools and expresses other thoughts.

Onward to Memphis

As part of this road trip, I wanted to paint the portrait of a wide range of schools and the administrators that lead within the buildings. We started at Les Cheneaux Community Schools with a K-12 population of 265, and on our next stop in Memphis, there are 165,000 students K-12.  
It’s almost Christmas at Richland Elementary! The school is under construction, adding additional classroom space that should be completed in November. Sharon McNary, the principal of Richland, and the rest of the staff are extremely excited for their students. At one point, they had more than 10 portable classrooms behind their school, so the additional space is eagerly anticipated!
Richland made a 12-point math gain this year, and Sharon attributes this in part to her participation with NAESP! A great reason to belong to your state and national associations! 

Richland does not qualify as a Title I school; however, Sharon and the educational community of Richland recognize that students still need support services. The PTO and larger community fundraise each year to employ three interventionists to assist in serving the 830 preK-fifth-grade students.
I appreciated the opportunity to read to a first-grade classroom while I visited her school!
The family atmosphere of Richland creates an atmosphere conducive for student achievement. The principal is the key!
Hear Mrs. McNary share what makes her proud of her school.

Stopping in Cordova

Cordova Elementary, led by Kimbrelle Lewis, leverages Global Leader Traits to promote academic achievement for her students.  I
Cordova’s staff is dedicated to their students. Each staff member, from instructional assistant to principal, provides a prominently displayed personal mission for their students.  
Kimbrelle noted that one of the school’s many points of pride are the chorus and instrumental music program that Cordova offers students.


Students are recognized weekly with badges that they earn from staff. Kimbrelle gave a shout-out to students on the day that I visited and had students explain the program to me.  

Kimbrelle does it all at Cordova Elementary! Principals wear many hats, but she also stops traffic at the end of the day to facilitate traffic flow as parents leave the school grounds – no small feat on the 95-degree day when I visited Cordova!
Kimbrelle shares an inspirational story where a child touched her life and made her a better educator.

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.
Questions & Feedback