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School employees kick year off with enthusiasm

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By Jennifer Caldwell

A sea of red, blue, orange and maroon converged on Jellico Monday morning.  

Hundreds of school system employees, dressed in t-shirts representing their respective schools, streamed into the Church of God Mountain Assembly in anticipation of the first in-service of the 2009-10 school year.

While the gathering, that included everyone from central office staff to the maintenance department, was meant to mark the beginning of a new year it was also a celebration of sorts for the accomplishments achieved during the previous year.

“I am thankful that all of you are here.  I make no apologies for having everyone because I consider this to be an investment,” Dr. Michael Martin, director of schools, told the group as he opened the program.

Setting the tone for the upcoming year, Martin took the opportunity to recognize a number of groups that made the previous year’s success a reality.

Starting down his mental list, Martin first expressed appreciation to the school board for its commitment to leading the system.

“”You (board members) represent us with honor, dignity and courage.  You set the tone and character of the system.  We count on you and we need you,” Martin declared.

Continuing his words of praise Martin next addressed the often forgotten, albeit much needed, custodial and maintenance and support staff.

“The buildings look fabulous and I am fascinated by how you did it,” Martin said.  “For every support person, we can’t make it without you.”

The director of schools also took the opportunity to offer gratitude to building principals for the part they played in ensuring their schools met or exceeded Adequate Yearly Progress standards.

Martin said despite warnings in his early days on the job that the group of principals was a difficult one he had thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

“They (the principals) are as good as they come.  I know you made a difference and I’m proud you.  You have earned my respect,” Martin told the school leaders.

Comments aimed at the system’s teachers were reserved for the close of Martin’s address.

“My attitude toward you is one of true professional awe. You have made an affirmation to my career for what you did,” Martin said, praising teachers for their efforts.

On the heels of accolades, Martin also took the opportunity to up the ante for the new year.

“Standards are more challenging and rigorous than they have ever been.  We will not say that we can’t reach that level of achievement,” Martin declared.

As Martin concluded his time at the podium he shifted the focus to the morning’s guest speaker.

From the moment Jim Kern took the stage he seemed to electrify the audience of nearly 700 school system employees.

With his quick wit and earnest words Kern, who holds a doctorate in counselor education from the University of Wyoming, took his audience through a range of emotions that spanned from exuberant laughter to tears and challenged them to love children.

“It isn’t what you teach in today’s classroom.  It’s what they learn,” Kern explained.

According to Kern, in order to be successful school staff must place more emphasis on people than things and remember that kids are people too.

“It is the child in you that impresses the child in them,” Kern said as he challenged teachers to not take themselves too seriously.

Kern told the group he contends that children cannot do well unless they feel “loved, cared for and safe.”

“You worry about AYP.  Well, you won’t have to worry about that if children know you care about them,” Kern proclaimed.

The chatter and rousing ovation following Kern’s presentation seemed to indicate the staff members were ready to face the challenges of a new school year with renewed zeal.

“This (in-service) was the best we’ve ever had,” music teacher Martha Freeman said of the morning session.

Valley View Elementary teacher Carol Heath echoed Freeman’s sentiments.

“It was very motivational and a great way for us to start off the year,” Heath added.