School Administrators on 2019 Highlights

Principals and County Staff Reflect on 2019
Posted on 12/19/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Principals and County Staff Reflect on 2019Asked about the highlights of 2019 for our Weakley County Schools, various administrators weighed in. Here’s a sampling of insights from principals to district office staff.

Randy Frazier, Director of Schools, said adding School Resource officers on every campus was his highlight of the year, “School safety is a very important priority on our district. The addition of SRO’s to our educational staffs has improved the safety and security of our campuses.”

Lorna Benson, Safe Schools Coordinator, agrees and since school safety is a multi-faceted, constantly evolving process, she asked to cheat regarding the request for only one highlight and instead offered up a category. “The one category I reflect on and see where we’ve made important strides is that of our communications capabilities. Within this area, with the guidance of the Weakley County Sheriff’s Department and the Martin Police Department, we will have realized the installation of a panic alarm system on each campus by the end of the year. Next, we’ve begun transitioning to the use of a new crisis prevention program: Safety Care. Also, to date, staff from three of the county’s largest schools and the entire transportation department have completed Youth Mental Health First Aid training. Finally, being designated as ‘Storm Ready Supporters’ by the National Weather Service signifies our schools have demonstrated that multiple means of monitoring, communicating and responding to severe weather conditions are in place.”

Betsi Foster, Federal Programs Director, also noted a couple of items. “With the support of Mr. Frazier and funding from local dollars and Federal Title IV money, we were able to implement a general music program for middle schoolers across the county,” she said. “Mr. Kelley and Mr. High worked to find the just-right person to initiate that program, and Mrs. Becca Steele proved to be the perfect choice. Interested middle school students are learning both choral and instrumental music from Mrs. Steele once a week. The performance of her music students at Sharon School’s Veterans Day program was a 2019 highlight for me.”

In addition to the music position, Foster recalled that in October “we learned that Weakley County’s Class of 2019 ranked among the highest cohorts in the state on average ACT score. With an average score of 21 with almost 55% scoring a 21 or higher, Weakley County’s graduates scored higher than any county district in West Tennessee, and 20th out of all 127 tested districts in the state.”

Lee Lawrence, Principal/Athletic Director at Gleason School, found it hard to pick just one highlight as well. “I can’t pick just one highlight, because each day, week and month have their own unique sets of highlights, challenges and success stories. The overall highlight of each semester is the ability to help students and families overcome obstacles that are often times barriers to educational success. It is very rewarding to work with students who decide to make positive changes in their attitude, work ethic, decision-making, etc. and then watch those students go on to have a positive influence on other people. Our teachers do an excellent job of working with students on a personal level, aside from the curriculum standards we teach.”

He decided if he were to focus on only one, it would be that “Gleason has tremendous community support for the school. This is evident each year during our annual fall festival in October. We are happy to have a Saturday afternoon and evening full of fun, fellowship and games with our families and community members. We are blessed to have hundreds of donations from our local and area businesses to support our teachers and students at this event.”

Other principals weighed in:
“Last year, we saw a significant increase in student attendance, and hope this trend continues throughout this school year. I am excited about what I see in our school. In my classroom observations, I have seen effective teaching and engaged students.” -- Jon Gardner, Martin Middle School

“One of our main goals this year at Martin Primary School has been working to develop a positive school environment. That includes our students, faculty, staff and parents. Teachers read The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon. Each month we focus on an aspect of the book. A positive outlook and disposition has helped in our classrooms. Students are better able to learn in a positive setting. Encouragement and love goes a long way!” – Tracey Bell, principal, Martin Primary

“We are proud of being named a Reward School by the state,” said Melanie Needham, principal, Dresden Elementary. “At a school level, the Kindergarten and 1st grade Family Reading Night that was held in November was a highlight for me. Family communication and involvement is a huge piece to the educational puzzle. It was great to see families spending time with their children at school engaged in reading and writing activities.”

“My goal this year was to increase family and community engagement with our school. I have been absolutely blown away by the outpouring of support for our school from our families and community this year. With everything from our Parent Teacher Conference night to the Alumni Recognition night to our School Store, the community of Sharon has blessed our school this year by their love and support for our students.” – Michelle Clements, principal, Sharon School

“I think there were actually two big highlights during the first semester,” observed Patresa Rogers, principal, Martin Elementary. “The Start With Hello campaign that we did in September led to some great discussion and also a great start to our goal of showing kindness to others. This is something that is one of our goals this year. Our world needs more kindness shown to others. The other highlight was our Seussical performance in November. This was such an amazing event that allowed our students to show off their talent. Mrs. Robin Pape did such an amazing job along with all of the other volunteers, parents, and students. I felt this was a wonderful showing of community support for all three performances.”

David Lewellen, principal Dresden Middle, points to academic highlights. “Finding ways to improving math skills has been a focus at Dresden Middle School for the last few years. In 2019, our students were up to the challenge, showing significant gains in 7th and 8th grade Math. We have activities such as Lion Pride Bank where we partner with Bancorp South, which helps students learn to manage and save money throughout the year. We also have our school store, The Lion’s Den, where students learn how to earn school money, save it, deposit it, and even spend it effectively. In 7th and 8th grade math, our teachers get the most out of their students and find ways to encourage them to reach their full potential.”

District staff such as Jessica Wade, District RTI Coordinator, also highlights math in her response. “Weakley County schools purchased and implemented a new resource called IReady Math to help provide interventions for students displaying significant math deficits in second through fifth grade. This program gives intervention teachers explicit lessons to guide their instruction and make improvements in students’ mathematical concepts.”

Megan Moore serves as the District Math Coach. She said that in her first year in this position, she has enjoyed sharing information about math through a Facebook group and monthly newsletter, both called “A Little Moore Math.”
Terri Stephenson, Elementary Supervisor of Instruction, turns to reading strides. “We had many wonderful things to take place in our district in 2019, but a highlight was when our district saw a 13% gain in our third grade TN Ready ELA scores. Those results solidified the work that we had put forth with the state’s Ready to Be Ready initiative. The initiative was grounded in sound reading research and we saw our students flourish as a result.”

Donald Ray High, Secondary Supervisor of Instruction, said his top highlight of 2019 was “when our district was awarded a level 4 (achieving) status. We were a level 1 last year, so improving to a level 4 was quite an accomplishment. Our teachers and administrators have worked very hard and their hard work has paid off.”

Highlights in the world of special education are varied and are sometimes a long time coming, noted Deborah Perkins, Director of Special Education. She includes several in her recap:
1. A child who has struggled to control his/her own behavior in the classroom has now learned to work with his/her behavior plan to achieve success in the classroom.
2. A child who has been nonverbal and has learned to use an assistive technology device to communicate.
3. Children who welcome me into their classrooms with a “Hi, Mrs. Deborah!” and an offer to show me what they are doing.
4. Seeing the hard work of our students, parents, teachers, SPED personnel, and others pay off when a child is able to graduate from high school and move on to a tech school, college, or a job.

“These are highlights because they signify the success of individual children who have struggles related to their disabilities. Students with disabilities can achieve their dreams, but often it takes the cooperation of many people to assist them to reach those goals,” she concluded.

Along with safety and academic achievements are the gains the county has seen from cafeterias to school buses. Trista Snider, School Nutrition Director, says the two most exciting things that have happened in her area in 2019 are the SmartMouth Pizzas, Farm-to-School Initiative, and the student raised swine – local sausage – being served at Dresden High School and coming soon to all the county schools.

Bethany Allen, Coordinated School Health Director, explained that Coordinated School Health has been tasked with helping with any non-academic barriers to learning. “We have really focused on mental health initiatives this year. We have helped train several staff members with Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is very helpful when dealing with a student who is experiencing mental health issues. We have also helped train staff on Safety Care, which is a behavioral safety program and de-escalation techniques staff can use with students,” she said.

Ron Byington, Director of Transportation, noted that with every event that the children are involved with outside of school requiring a bus driver and months with nearly 100 trips in a month, it would be difficult to choose any one trip to discuss. “So I would say the highlight of 2019 will be our annual Christmas party. This is a time for all of us to come together and give thanks for the safe completion of the first half of the year. The drivers finally get a chance to unwind and have some fun at the end of a very busy year.”

School dismissed early on December 19 and teachers and administration will return on January 6 with classes will resume on January 7.

Here are some of the highlights as seen in photos from the year:
Weakley Strong Banner and Greenfield with Reward Banner
WeakleyStrong banner and Greenfield Reward School banner at TN Soybean Festival parade with decorated school bus

Dresden's Leigh Hart and Jamie Rickman
Dresden Middle School’s Leigh Hart and Jamie Rickman at Christmas store

Commissioner Charlie Hatcher with Dresden FFA
Commissioner Charlie Hatcher at Weakley County Livestock Production Farm

Sharon Back to School Event
Sharon School Back to School event

Rebecca Steele with Gleason Choir
Rebecca Steele with Gleason choir

MES Seussical cast
MES Seussical cast in costume

Westview students reading to MPS
Westview students reading books to Martin Primary

Gleason SRO with student
Gleason SRO Jonathan McDowell with Liam Williams
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