TJR Principal to be Featured at Lead4Ward Conference

TJR Principal to be Featured at Lead4Ward Conference
Posted on 11/03/2017
TJR Principal to be Featured at Lead4Ward Conference The education service and support firm Lead4ward will feature Thomas J. Rusk Elementary School principal Paula Harshbarger later this month during a conference in central Texas.

Harshbarger was selected to describe TJR’s successful effort to turn around from an “improvement required” campus. The conference for Lead4Ward will be held at the end of November near Bastrop.

Harshbarger is in her second full year as principal at TJR, which earned a “met standard” rating over the summer from Texas Education Agency. TEA’s ratings for 2017 are binary: either “improvement required” or “met standard.”

The longtime Nacogdoches Independent School District teacher spent 23 years in the classroom at Carpenter Elementary, Nettie Marshall and Mike Moses Middle School before moving to TJR. Harshbarger was named principal at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

“There were no systems in place,” said Harshbarger, who came to the campus with about two weeks left in the school year. That changed with her arrival, including the use of some the services offered by Lead4Ward.

“[The campus] was hungry for success,” Harshbarger said. “I didn’t have a big issue with getting people on board.”

That included creating such things as “big gain events,” where students set goals based on previous standardized test score. Those that met their goal got to attend, Harshbarger said.

The school also held “rockin’ reviews” the Friday before each assessment. The games, including a scavenger hunt along with the use of technology, were a fun way for students to review for the upcoming test.

“It was way more encouraging,” Harshbarger said. Volunteers cooked hotdogs, and an Elvis impersonator was on hand for the pep rally at the end of the day.

“Paula did such a wonderful job last year and continues so this year,” said NISD Superintendent Sandra Dowdy. “The entire campus came together to reach the goal of coming off the ‘improvement required’ list.

“We are so proud as a district for what TJR was able to accomplish.”

For one thing, Harshbarger understood the problems teachers face while working at a school that has an “improvement required” rating.

“It’s an extremely stressful work situation,” she said. “I understood that.”

Community support for the school was a crucial part of the turnaround. Two nearby churches - First United Methodist and First Christian Church - have targeted TJR with volunteers.

“I have so much support here,” Harshbarger said. “We have just a phenomenal support base with volunteers and mentors.”

Before one test, volunteers in the neighborhood used chalk to leave notes of encouragement on sidewalks surrounding the school.

Harshbarger shared credit with the entire school, as well as assistant principals Kevin Hines and Becca Vose.

“Everybody just worked so incredibly hard last year,” she said.