By Blenda Copeland
The Russell County School District held its Institute Day Aug. 2.
The faculty heard a dynamic speaker in the morning, who challenged them to, among other things, “Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing,” keep the distractions at bay, and seek opportunities to punch holes in the darkness that students are facing and dealing with every day.
The teachers and administrators also fellowshipped over a Tailgate-themed lunch and later heard another pep talk from Dwight Jones, Russell County’s head football coach. Door prizes also were given away, and Oliver Elementary School won the Spirit Stick.
The energizing gathering kicked off the new school year, which began Monday.
As students return to classes this year, they’ll notice a few changes in administration and upper level positions. The educators shared what their goals and visions were for the upcoming year, and how they plan to live out this year’s theme in their individual schools or environments.
Nancy Edwards is the new principal at Oliver Elementary School. Last school year, she was in Eufaula, where she had served as a teacher and administrator at the high school and elementary school levels. “Oliver already is a high-performing school,” she said. Edwards wants to carry through with the district’s theme this year of inspiring, empowering and educating with excellence. She also wants to build upon the foundation that’s already been built at Oliver.
Jacob Johnson has been promoted from Ladonia Elementary’s assistant principal last year to the school’s principal this year. “We have a great environment at our school,” he said. Johnson said the school’s in great shape and he wants to build on the foundation that was previously constructed. He expects to continue investing in the school’s teachers, students and population as well as continue giving all resources and opportunities to be successful. He’d like to focus on eliminating detractors, and, “We’re going to be very involved in the community this year,” he said. That includes involvement through federal programs and the school’s special designation as an Alabama Bicentennial School, which involves the completion of a unique project. Johnson also expects the school to delve into monthly parental involvement meetings covering several topics of interest, in the effort to be “a driving force for change within our community.”
Jennifer VanSlander is the new principal at Mount Olive Intermediate School. New to the state and Russell County, she hails from Salem, Oregon, where she served 18 years as a teacher and principal. Two of her goals this year include honing student achievement and nurturing relationships with parents, understanding that they’re the school’s partners in education. VanSlander said a comment that really stood out to her from Institute Day was that events plus reactions equal outcomes. Reflecting on that, she said, “We have full control over everything that happens in the school and how we react to it.”
Marceda Lewis has been named the district’s new director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction (K-5). Lewis said she is happy to start her 21st year in education in her “home” district. A graduate of Russell County High, Lewis served her first 20 years in education in the Phenix City School District. Regarding Russell County Schools’ theme this year, Lewis said she intends to focus on moving forward with her peers as a team, “unified in efforts to deliver high quality learning experiences and establishing positive relationships for the benefit of the children we serve, and our community. Because what we say, what we do, and how we do it leaves a lasting impression.”
Dr. Eddie Obleton
Dr. Eddie Obleton, who was assistant principal at Russell County High School last year, has this year been named director of Career Tech/Alternative Learning Program and Virtual Learning. “There’s a push for Career Tech,” he said. He said while some students will graduate from four-year universities, there are other others who will complete their studies at two-year universities – as is the case especially in Alabama. Those students will be focused on learning skills and trades, he said, 22 percent of which fall in the agriculture-related industries field. “That’s something we need to look at this year,” he said, adding that it’s also important to do what’s right for students in “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Obleton added that he believes in training and cross-training and helping students be prepared to complete certifications as well as reach the next level, be it a two-year or four-year university. He also seeks to strengthen the interweaving of the core elements like math, science and social studies into the career tech field.
Alison Waldrop, who served as Oliver Elementary’s principal last year, has this year been named Russell County Middle School’s principal. “We’re going to have an academic focus, keeping in mind the whole child, and safety is going to be one of our main priorities,” Waldrop said. Having served at South Girard in the Phenix City School District in the past, Waldrop said serving at the middle school level in Russell County is a challenge she looks forward to. “The junior high level: that’s a pivotal turning point,” she said of a child’s development. Those are some of the most impressionable years, she said. She said the ultimate goal is to see students be successful at the middle school level and prepared to graduate at the high school level – to see them become successful, productive citizens in life, no matter the course they choose.
Michael Kilpatrick, who served last year as Russell County High School’s prevention specialist has been promoted to an assistant principal position at the school. Translating the district’s theme this year into action, he said the goal is that everything that is done in the schools is for the betterment of the students, from kindergarten to high school, to prepare them to be successful in life.
Russell Leonard is new to Russell County this year and has also been named an assistant principal at Russell County High School. Last year, he served as a teacher at Auburn High School. “It’s always important to remain positive,” he said. He said an educator’s ability to leave an impact is strong: educators do not always know what struggles students are overcoming or processing while they are in school. This is how educators have great influence over students, he said: “We have the opportunity to impact them – not just in their high school life – but for the rest of their lives,” he said.