Virginia Middle School Principal of the Year, 2005-06
Finalist, National Middle School Principal of the Year, 2005-06
BA, Marketing Education, North Carolina State University
MA, School Administration, University of North Carolina-Wilmington
Doctoral Candidate, Regent University School of Education
Sharon Byrdsong: An Extraordinary Educator
AZALEA GARDENS’ OWN STAR
Sharon Byrdsong has been principal at Azalea Gardens
Middle School (AGMS) for just six short years. But in that time,
she has managed to have a big impact on the staff and students
there. Test scores have improved. In fact, the 850 students at
AGMS have had the highest Standards of Learning scores in the
eastern Virginia region in recent years. And Sharon is proud of
this fact because it bears out what she believes with her whole
heart. AGMS has bright kids who can achieve. She says all the
kids can succeed and in her own words, “all means ALL.”
Besides their excellent test scores, AGMS has some other bragging
rights as well. This year Sharon Byrdsong was named Virginia Middle
School Principal of the Year. She is also one of three candidates
in contention for the national title. Sharon has been interviewed
and the National Middle School Principal will be announced in
GOD WAS THERE ALL ALONG
Before coming to AGMS, Sharon taught at two high schools
in North Carolina including EA Laney. Laney was Michael Jordan’s
high school. The basketball superstar visits the school often
and Sharon was able to observe the tremendous impact a positive
leader could have on students. While at Laney, she was awarded
a principal’s fellowship that allowed her to pursue her
master’s in School Administration at UNC-Wilimington. When
Sharon looks back, she can point to doors God opened for her to
lead her exactly where He wanted her. He used her marriage and
the transfer of her Marine Corps husband to bring her to Tidewater
where she was hired by the Norfolk School System. Being a successful
principal has encouraged Sharon to consider moving on to central
office administration. For that she knew she would need a doctorate.
I WAS DETERMINED…
Sharon applied and was accepted to another doctoral
program. The first day of class, she knew immediately that she
was in the wrong place. This was not the program for her. But
now what? Where should she be going to school? She had been encouraged
by friends to consider Regent University, but had not done so.
With only one week to go before classes would start, Sharon called
on Regent. The woman with whom she spoke told her that she was
too late. Sharon says the woman told her there was “no way”
she could get registered in time to come to Regent that semester.
Sharon says, “I was determined!” So she began the
process of application, essay, transcripts, references and all
that one must do. By the end of that week, she got the call she
had come to believe was in God’s plan. She heard, “
We’re happy to tell you you’ve been accepted into
Regent University.” Now Sharon talks about how from the
very beginning this program of study at Regent is helping her
in her current position. Sharon says the sense of community at
Regent is not only encouraging but is a part of what she is learning.
The collaboration with her fellow students has sparked her own
creativity at Azalea Gardens and allowed her to share concepts
and strategies that classmates can adapt and use. Sharon says
that as soon as her own two children are in bed for the night,
she is on the computer networking with Regent classmates. Sharon
has real confidence that Regent is the place she was meant to
be and that her time there will not only enhance her professional
skills, but increase her creative drive as well.
WHAT PUT AZALEA GARDENS AND THEIR PRINCIPAL ON THE MAP
The following are areas and strategies Sharon points to the she considers the reasons for her success at Azalea Gardens:
- Strong team approach – meeting with all 100 + teachers
and staff to gather input and ideas
The two bell planning period – With the help of her administrative team, Sharon came up with a unique scheduling feature that gives her teachers not the normal one bell planning period each day but two. The teachers and staff praise this change calling it revolutionary. By structuring the day carefully every core teacher has a personal planning bell and a collaborative planning bell. Personal bell allows teachers to prepare for classroom times and the collaborative bell allows them to get together with other subject teachers to plan group items as well as to develop mentor style relationships.
Creative class changes. By strategizing the schedule again, Sharon and her team have arranged it so that no two grade levels are changing classes at the same time. The school houses 6th, 7th and 8th graders. When the 6th graders are in the halls, the 7th and 8th are in class. This has diminished everything from bullying behaviors to having anxious, hormonely driven 6th graders trying to grow up any faster than they already might be.
- A school big on goals – among other things in her goals
and rewards approach is the “straight 'A' limo ride”
award. For students that achieve the necessary period of straight
“A’s,” there’s a ride in a limo to their
Personal attention – Sharon and many of her staff and teachers greet each child at the door each morning. Boys are reminded to tuck shirttails in and girls are asked to keep tops and pants touching as they head for classrooms. Then the student-produced announcements are seen over the closed circuit system and you guessed it, “Mrs. B” as some students call her, is one of the featured reporters.
- Pouring over data – Sharon has tasked members of her
staff with the responsibility of keeping up with school, local,
regional and national data on everything from test scores to
drop- out rates to student teacher ratios. By studying their
own numbers and the numbers across the region and the nation,
Azalea Gardens stays up with trends and handles challenges that
may be coming their way. Proof of this useful strategy is that
last year Azalea Gardens had no dropouts and was recognized
as one school having some of the highest SOL scores.
Free tutoring is available after school for any student.
Home visits – Sharon and other members of the school administration actually go out and visit families to engage parents in their child’s education and take some of the adversarial tendencies out of situations where correction might be needed.
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