“It has been said, ‘if you want to change the world, be a teacher.’ I would make that broader and say ‘if you want to change the world, love a teacher!” So says Tiffany Martin, principal of the Winnfield Primary School, who spoke to members of the Winnfield Rotary Club on October 6, 2021 at the invitation of Melissa Trammel, Rotarian of the week.
Either way, it is certainly true that teachers and those who love them do change the world. They provide knowledge, training, ideas and inspiration to those children in their paths, and not just in their classrooms, but in the school as a whole and the community as well. And principals always begin as classroom teachers themselves before moving into the administrative arena, where they continue to teach and contribute to the education of our future, the children in our communities.
Ms. Martin was reared and educated in our neighboring community of Quitman, Louisiana, and went on to obtain her higher education at Louisiana Tech and ULM. She taught in the classroom in other communities for six years before moving to the Winn Parish school district as a teacher. She married a native of Dodson, Quint Martin, and is the mother of a seventh grade son and a daughter in Pre-K.
Ms. Martin has been part of the Winn Parish school district for the last 11 years, first as a teacher, then assistant principal of Winnfield Middle School, and for the last two years, as principal of Winnfield Primary School. She loves this school district, and was eager to give Rotarians a report on the status of the children attending Winnfield Primary.
Only a few months into her first year as principal of Winnfield Primary, the schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and children’s education came to a halt here, as it did practically everywhere. As the next school year of 2019-20 ended, about 25% of the students at Primary—those who did not pass a core subject or were identified by the staff as requiring extra support to succeed—needed additional work to master the knowledge and skills required to advance to the next grade level. Those children attended a very successful 4-days-a-week summer school term, after which a very high percentage—Ms. Martin did not have specific numbers, but estimated 95-98%–were able to progress to the next grade.
As of the beginning of this 2021-22 school year, the school has new playground equipment obtained with a combination of grant money from Jonesboro State Bank and community fundraising. This includes some equipment which is accessible to children with disabilities, so all children at the school can experience the recreational fun of the playground.
One of the school’s goals is to reach 100% certification in the teaching staff. Eleven of the teachers needed to obtain certification at the beginning of school last year, and seven have now obtained certification. Ms. Martin had to replace only one teacher, who passed away this summer for reasons unrelated to COVID, for the 2021-22 school year. No staff was lost as a result of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
The entire staff is working hard to reach literacy goals at Primary, and several programs have been developed to accomplish these objectives. Student Push to Accelerate Reading Knowledge (SPARK) has been implemented. Three teachers are planning explicit programs to advance reading knowledge of the children who need extra help reaching the average reading level for their age and grade level, and spend time throughout each day working one-on-one with those children. When one child reaches his goals, another child takes that place in the program. Another of these programs, What I Need (WIN) Time, focuses individual instruction in math and reading on specific children throughout the school day.
The school’s curriculum coordinator directs standard testing, observes models, and works with teachers to improve their skills. The school’s literacy coach works with children individually to improve reading and comprehension.
Ms. Martin reported that COVID was a significant factor in causing gaps in children’s learning due to the loss of face-to-face teaching for such a long time. Also, the isolation of children from March 2019 to the beginning of this school year affected their development of social as well as academic skills. The school has developed an individual prescription for each child to close the gaps between actual knowledge and skills and the level of knowledge and skill expected for that child’s age and grade level. Although the school had a lower enrollment last school year than the 2019-20 school year, this year’s enrollment is back to previous levels.
All in all, Ms. Martin is enthusiastic about the advances she expects her school to make this year in improving the children’s knowledge and skills to bring them up to their age and grade level and beyond.
The meeting was adjourned, as usual, with the Rotary motto, “Service above self!”