A school community that in the past has often been recognized for its struggles is celebrating this year.
The Howard School's most well-known cheerleader, Executive Principal LeAndrea Ware, was named 2019-20 Principal of the Year for the entire state Tuesday night.
Ware, an alumna of Howard herself, was one of nine finalists. She was recognized alongside the Supervisor of the Year Michelle Goad of the Gibson County Special School District at the Tennessee Department of Education's LEAD conference Tuesday night.
"Known for her energy and passion, Ware works each day to create an environment of success for all students," according to a news release.
Whether she's greeting sleepy-eyed high school students as they step off buses each morning, speaking to a group of potential new teachers in a tiny conference room or hopping out of a helicopter (an Erlanger Life Force air ambulance, to be exact), Ware exudes that energy and passion, her colleagues say.
That enthusiasm brought Ware back to her alma mater, The Howard School, at the end of the 2017-18 school year and has kept her at the school.
"It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I accept the honor and privilege of being named the 2019-2020 Tennessee Principal of the Year," Ware said when accepting the award Tuesday night. "There is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that fuels my passion to do this work. It says: 'An individual has not started living, until he or she can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns, to the broader concerns of all humanity.' That concern is our moral imperative to work together to positively impact the lives of all students!"
Howard has seen some of the top educators in the community at its helm over the years, including Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy Executive Director Elaine Swafford and the Public Education Foundation's Edna Varner, but the school has remained one of the district's most challenging schools.
It is one of the 12 schools that makes up the district's Opportunity Zone, and with a student population made up of mostly students of color and students from economically disadvantaged households, the school has struggled with low test scores, chronic absenteeism and low graduation rates for decades.
But at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Ware kicked things off with a "Parade of Stars" and invited more than 300 faculty, staff and community members to greet students as they started the school year. Hanging in the lobby overhead were 1,000 stars that represented students, teachers and the expectations she has for the school year.
Since Ware took over leadership of the school, she and her team have launched a Saturday Success Academy to help students who are falling behind in their classes; a Transition Academy that offers a nontraditional educational environment for students who need an alternative to the regular school day; a NewComer Academy for immigrant students who are new to the country; and other initiatives to increase attendance and reduce disciplinary infractions.
The school has also celebrated the opening of its new stadium and a visit from billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates during her tenure.
"Dr. Ware is a dynamic school leader with a passion for Howard and the children of the community," Superintendent Bryan Johnson previously told the Times Free Press. "She is a perfect example of a great school leader and a model for the great teachers and leaders we envision for our schools in the Future Ready 2023 action plan."
Each school district's principal of the year advances to the state level Tennessee Principal of the Year program, which recognizes the best principal in the state. At least two previous Hamilton County principals have been named Tennessee's principal of the year: Robin Copp, former principal of Ooltewah High, in 2018, and Ronald Hughes, principal at Apison Elementary, in 2015.
"As a former principal, I'm continually inspired by the caliber of principals and supervisors that we have across this great state, and I am truly honored to recognize these outstanding individuals who work each day to make sure our students are receiving the best possible education," said Commissioner Penny Schwinn in a statement.
Ware previously served as principal at East Lake Academy and in district administration roles at the district's central office. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Tennessee Tech and Howard High School.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.