This story was updated Wednesday, March 13, 2019, at 4:58 p.m. with more information.
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 (Erlanger's Life Force chopper to be exact), LeAndrea Ware exudes energy and passion.
That enthusiasm brought Ware back to her alma mater, The Howard School, at the end of last year and has now earned her the honor of being Hamilton County's principal of the year.
"Dr. Ware is a dynamic school leader with a passion for Howard and the children of the community," said Superintendent Bryan Johnson in a statement Wednesday. "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."
Ware took over as interim principal of the school, one of the district's historically struggling schools and part of the Opportunity Zone, at the end of the 2017-18 school year and was named executive director this school year.
Her love for school and innovation as an educational leader led to her selection as this year's principal of the year, according to a news release from Hamilton County Schools.
"Ware has a passion for exuding HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) and working to foster an environment of success for all students and teachers. She also believes in shared leadership and empowering students and teachers to engage in school leadership in creating positive change," the release states.
The Howard School faces some unique challenges with a student body made mostly of students from communities of concentrated poverty and a growing number of English language learners.
This 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.
Her efforts have garnered praise from colleagues.
"Having worked for several principals in my 35 years, [she is], without a doubt the most enthusiastic and energetic of them all," reads a statement from math teacher Timothy Davenport. "[Her] desire for student success and genuine love of each one is evident in [her] words and actions."
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 Center for immigrant students who are new to the country; and other initiatives to increase attendance and reduce disciplinary infractions.
The district said early results indicate progress, including promising benchmark results and reduced behavioral infractions.
"I believe great things are happening at Howard, and will continue to happen," said Jill Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone. "I'm excited that [Ware] is being recognized by her peers for being a visionary and for the energy and expertise she brings to the job. ... Just walking down the halls at Howard, you can't help but be inspired by her."
"Four administrators alone will not transform Howard High School," Ware said in a statement. "It definitely takes a collective effort from all."
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. 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.
Ware has previously served as principal at East Lake Academy and in district administration roles at the Central Office. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Tennessee Tech and Howard High School.