Sunday, October 18, 2009

Principal honored for turning school around

Source Link - Principal honored for turning school around

Janice Barton took over a rundown school with an unfriendly atmosphere and low teacher morale.

Profoundly deaf, she didn't need hearing to recognize the signs of a campus in crisis. And she didn't need it to make a difference.

In about five years, Barton turned Oak Grove Central Elementary in DeSoto County from an academically foundering school to one of the top in the state.

She also boosted parent involvement and teacher morale.

For that work, she is one of 63 administrators across the country named a 2009 National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

The award recognizes principals who help turn around chronically underperforming schools and find innovative ways to empower teachers, parents and the community, according to a release from the association.

"Oak Grove was on school improvement when I went there as principal," Barton, who has been promoted to director of elementary and middle schools for the district, said in an e-mail. "Parents were complaining about the school."

"One of the first things I did was look at the test data and meet with the teachers that first summer to just listen to their needs," Barton said. "I felt it was important to establish a relationship with them and start earning their trust in order to lead them toward necessary changes we would need to make based on the test data and community input."

The school went from a Level 3 that did not meet adequate yearly progress goals to Level 5, the highest ranking, under the new rating system, she said.

Barton will receive her award this week at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., which will feature an address from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

She is not the only district principal to receive a national accolade. Hernando High School Principal Freddie Joseph has been named Mississippi's 2009 High School Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Washington, D.C.

This is the second time both distinguished principal awards went to DeSoto County principals, said Milton Kuykendall, superintendent of DeSoto County Schools.

Barton and Joseph "are extremely dedicated," Kuykendall said. "They're on top of every new strategy and idea."

The two are also able to take share their knowledge with teachers and other administrators, Kuykendall said.

Ann Jolley, chairwoman of the DeSoto County school board, said, "you'd never know" Barton is profoundly deaf.

"That's a disability you have to deal with all your life, and yet she's always smiling, always happy," Jolley said. "In a school, that makes all the difference in the world."

An energetic, upbeat principal is better able to retain teachers and also keep parents involved, she said. The energy also benefits students, Jolley said.

Barton probably knows the name of every student at Oak Grove Central Elementary School, she said.

As principal of the school of about 556 fourth- and fifth-graders, Barton boosted parental involvement and pushed for more focus on students. Under her watch, programs to promote reading were started, including a book-of-the-month initiative and a morning book club, according to the release.

Barton said she was shocked when she learned of the award, calling it "a prestigious honor."

"My teachers worked very hard to make sure the students learned what they needed to be successful," Barton said. "I thank God for giving me the opportunity to serve the students, teachers, and parents of OG. It was a collaborative effort for this award to occur. I share it with my students, parents, and especially my wonderful teachers! I love them all!"