ABOUT THE WINNER
Name: LeAndrea Ware
Education: Howard High School; bachelor's degree from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; graduate degrees from UTC and Tennessee Tech
Years at East Lake Academy: 3 as principal, 2 as assistant principal
Years in education: 16
Family: Husband Gerald, children DeLante, Amari and Soriyah
"She has provided me with so many different resources when it comes to professional development...She's put in place those key factors that are essential for a teacher to become effective." First-year teacher Rickey Jones
What people are saying: "She trusts her teachers ... even if they don't." - Kendra Harris, magnate facilitator.
Loves working out at the gym and watching movies with her family
A group of about 40 students sits in the East Lake Academy library, eating cake with teachers and parents while classical music plays in the background. The school's Very Impressive Performers all earned a 3.0 grade point average every quarter of this year, and there are more off at other extra-curricular events.
"You are a leader here in the school," Principal LeAndrea Ware tells the VIPs. "What you do, people are watching."
People are watching Ware, too. Many at the school credit her for encouraging a rigorous academic atmosphere. She tells the VIPs that she wants to see twice as many by the end of next year. For the principal, it was all about increasing expectations - of the whole community.
East Lake Academy is a zoned magnet school. For most of the 464 students, it's just their neighborhood middle school. But about 160 came to the school through an application process. These kids must maintain good grades, behavior and attendance, and their parents must commit to volunteering at the school.
"Those are expectations that we should have for all of our families," Ware says. "Even though [the requirements are] on the magnet application, I took it off and put it in the welcome packet at the beginning of the year for enrollment. This is for everybody...We expect [parents] to be involved in what we do every day."
Parents, even those of nonmagnet students, have stepped up to the task, Ware says, such as the caterers who help prepare food for the school's semi-weekly fruit and vegetable program. Others visit the school at lunch to talk about what they do at their jobs and, more importantly, the work they had to complete to get hired.
The kids are listening.
"You should go out of the way to be the best you can be," said VIP student Antqunisha Lane.
"[The VIP program] is making people work harder to get good grades," added VIP Kedhejah McDaniel.
Students in the program are rewarded with uniform passes, special lunches and even a trip to Medieval Times. VIP Derrick Summers Jr. said that the program gives kids momentum to keep up academic success throughout the year.
"Being a VIP is one of the most special things you can do," he said.
"We want to raise the bar...You have to have high expectations, especially if we're going to prepare them to compete in a global society," Ware noted.
Behind the high-achieving students are a group of dedicated teachers. Several are new to the school or even new to teaching, but Ware provides excellent professional support, first-year math teacher Rickey Jones said.
He applauded the principal's efforts to bring a math coach to ELA who helps teachers make lesson plans and said he learned a lot from another coach who taught strategies from the habits of mind, habits of interaction teaching method.
"She has provided me with so many different resources when it comes to professional development...She's put in place those key factors that are essential for a teacher to become effective," he said.
Though Ware is proud of her VIPs, teacher Gwendoline Hamer said that she's also supportive of a very different group - her special education students. She described the principal as stern but understanding and said that if students are disruptive or destructive, she knows that she can count on administrators, not only to remove the troublemakers from class, but also to work one on one with them on heir course work while teaching them about personal responsibility.
"She does an awesome job of leading and guiding, not dictating," added Magnet Facilitator Kendra Harris.
Ware said the only really challenging part of her job was cramming enough hours in the day to get everything done. But if she has to stay after school for an hour or four, she doesn't mind because she can keep an eye on the kids who have to wait to go home. What's more, it makes her an example of the rigorous work she expects of the rest of the school community.
"You really have to build that climate and that culture that says, 'We have high expectations, and we believe in every child,'" she said. "I tell everyone who wants to work here that we have to believe in the children, sometimes even before they will believe in themselves."
Contact staff writer Steve Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-320-8647.