July 31, 2019
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
There is no coursework or professional development training to prepare Monica Wilkerson, her assistant principal Tammi Shaffer, teachers and staff along with students and parents for the transition taking place at David Youree Elementary School.
Because of rezoning, all but 11 educators and the entire student body from last school year will be at the new Rocky Fork Elementary School.
In early June, Wilkerson and Shaffer hosted a cookout for 10 of the 11 returning staff members – six teachers, three English as a second language instructors and two related arts teachers – at Shaffer’s house.
“Once we all had our plates,” Wilkerson recalled, “we sat around the table. I said, ‘OK, ask me questions.’”
And they did.
Some wanted to know more about Wilkerson on a personal level. She’s a married mother of two with one dog and likes to relax with a good book.
Others asked instructional questions.
She spent 12 years as a fourth-grade teacher at Barfield Elementary before going to Rock Springs as an assistant principal. One even brought a notebook and asked if she needed to take notes. She did not.
They all wanted to know more about Wilkerson’s leadership style.
“We all got to sit around a big table,” Wilkerson said, “and it was probably good to be smushed. They had to talk. We had to have conversations.
“I think (it was) very beneficial for those who were staying,” she continued.
Wilkerson and Shaffer have been at the school since February.
However, when she took over after David Youree’s previous principal Scott Bolden was named to the same position at Rocky Fork, Wilkerson finished out the 2018-2019 school year by following the process and the plans Bolden had implemented the previous August.
Once the school year ended, Wilkerson transitioned from being observational to building and fostering relationships with those faculty members who elected to stay at David Youree.
It’s a unique situation.
There will be a new staff and an entirely new student body, but a building with more than 40-years of history. There are about 200 students coming from Cedar Grove, while the majority of the students will be coming from Smyrna Primary.
“We like to say Rocky Fork got the new building, but we’re building a new school,” Wilkerson said of a situation that will most likely never repeat itself in her career.
Wilkerson realizes there is a legacy and a history that comes with being at David Youree — “you want to keep those things that have proven to be effective for students” — and refers to the 11 holdovers, who chose to stay at the school rather than move with the others, as the backbone of the future.
“We’ve had several meetings with them and several sit-down conversations with them,” Wilkerson said. “The most important thing I learned from Mr. Bolden and after talking to Dr. (Jimmy) Sullivan, was we always have to go to, ‘why?’ And that’s our students, so as long as we can keep that focus, I think we’ll maintain the legacy that has been David Youree.”
Wilkerson added, “In this first year, we’re focusing on building relationships.”
One difference is that every person will have a leading role.
Some will be team leaders or members of the leadership group, while others will lead PLC’s or student groups. The intention is for Wilkerson to see who the “leaders are in (their) building” and, perhaps, “breed new leaders.”
“The most important thing to me is that we collaborate and work together,” Wilkerson said.
Building relationship and working together will also be a theme when it comes to the student body adjusting to its new environment.
Wilkerson and her staff have worked to blend and evenly distribute students among their new classmates. Students will also be divided into four “houses” with each representing all grade levels, so that younger and older students who might not otherwise meet will have a chance to get to know one another.
This way students and educators, regardless of grade level, will eventually all know one another when they’re sharing the hallways and cafeteria together.
“It would be beneficial to them to make this feel like home,” Wilkerson said, but, at the present time, she added, “None of us know each other, so it’s really about getting to know each other.”
Teachers, staff and administrators will be participating in a funteam building exercise Aug. 2 at Stars and Strikes Family Entertainment Center that meant to help them bond ahead of the first day of school on Aug. 6.
“I’m excited,” Wilkerson concluded. “We’re looking forward to getting everyone in the building.”
PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT