Barron: Respect is key to success
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Smokey Road Middle School Principal Dr. Laurie Barron – recently named the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)/MetLife National Middle Level Principal of the Year – has a theory about her students’ success.
“I really believe the success we’ve had at Smokey Road is because of the relationships we’ve build with each other,” Barron said.
“I really think you build a relationship based on what you have in common,” Barron said. “Then, it’s a lot easier to work on what you don’t have in common.”
Barron said she values athletics, fine arts and other extracurricular programs not only for showcasing outstanding students but also as a lead-in to academic success – and pipeline to parents as well.”
“One of the things we work hard at is reaching out to parents in an environment where they’re comfortable,” Barron said. “For example, a huge number of parents come onto campus here because their child excels at band or chorus or because their child excels at athletics. If you can be a part of that and show that parent how you think it’s just as important for their child to excel in those areas as in academics, you can build that relationship based on what that parent believes in, and then it’s a lot easier to talk about math.”
That works with students as well.
“We all know our children need an education,' Barron said. "So if what a student thinks is most important is playing football and he sees I believe in football too – that I think it's cool and I think it's important and I come and watch him play – and then I go to teach him science the next day, I bet he pays a lot more attention in my science class."
Valuing what parents and students value ideally leads to a reciprocal relationship.
"We hope in turn they'll begin to value what we value, and we value the whole child," Barron said. "Our goal is not to produce rote memorization test scores. Our goal is to produce productive, well-rounded citizens who can give back to their community. We want to make sure they have been taught the importance of giving back to others and that they understand how being smart and literate will help them do that. And isn't that what you want for your child?"
Personalizing learning environments also is crucial for middle-schoolers, who Barron said often feel as though they have no control over their lives.
"They feel like everything is being done to them," she said. "So it is critical that we treat students in a professional and respectful way even when they least deserve it. We are trying to give students more personal buy-in, to show them they have opportunities for growth and improvement even in spite of challenges."
From "good kids" who are under incredible pressure not to slip to "bad kids" who are under incredible pressure to rise above less-than-ideal circumstances, Barron and the SMRS staff are constantly working to guide students toward making good choices – and reinforcing that one bad decision doesn't have to define them.
"When a child makes a decision that affects someone's safety, that's not negotiable," Barron said. "At that point, I don't really care about your feelings. But otherwise, I want you to have consequences that help you improve your behavior. I don't want to just punish you and tell you you'd better not do it again, I want you to understand why that decision was wrong and why that decision doesn't have to make who you are."
It's about personal responsibility for Barron. "In my experience, most of the time, students' poor decisions do not make them poor students and a bad decision doesn't make you a bad kid," she said. "But you are responsible for the decisions you make. You cannot change how someone else treats you, but you can change how you react."
Barron's educational philosophies were part of what led to her national award, which was presented at a Smokey Road rally and came in the form of a surprise announcement by Superintendent of Schools Steve Barker.
"We couldn't be more proud of Dr. Barron and Smokey Road Middle School," Barker said last week at a Coweta County Chamber of Commerce meeting at which Barron was recognized.
Barker said Barron's honor is an indication that "our students are in great hands, at Smokey Road and throughout our school system. That is true of our principals and teachers, custodial and clerical staff, bus drivers... all throughout our school system."
Barron will be honored during the NASSP's national convention in Washington, DC, on September 21, to kick off National Principals Month. Barron said that the greatest opportunity that the honor presents to her is that "people all across our state and nation are going to be able to hear about the quality of education her in Coweta County and at Smokey Road Middle School."
Barron said she will serve her year as the National Middle School Principal of the Year to "celebrating what's right with public education as we have it here in Coweta County."
She also thanked the business and community leaders at the breakfast for their support of Coweta County schools.