Smokey Road’s Barron named national principal of the year

Coweta Schools Assistant Superintendent Marc Guy, left, just congratulated Smokey Road Middle School Principal Dr. Laurie Barron for being named the 2013 National Middle Level Principal of the Year by MetLife and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. At right are Coweta County Board of Education Chairman Sue Brown and Coweta Superintendent Steve Barker, who helped announce Barron’s honor at the school on Aug 21. Photo/Special.

For a middle school principal it is an honor like no other. Smokey Road Middle School Principal Laurie Barron on Aug. 21 was named the 2013 MetLife/NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) National Middle Level Principal of the Year.

Barron earlier in the summer was named one of six national finalists for the honor. The surprise announcement that she had been named the top middle school principal in the United States came during an Aug. 21 school assembly attended by students, teachers, district staff members, National Association of Secondary School Principals and MetLife Foundation officials, along with representatives from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office and the Georgia Dept. of Education, according to Coweta County School System spokesman Dean Jackson. Barron will be honored at a black-tie gala on Sept. 21 in Washington, D.C., said Jackson.

Jackson said the surprise announcement was made at a “Wildcat Kick-off” school pep rally held in the school’s gymnasium. Superintendent Steve Barker, Coweta County Board of Education Chairman Sue Brown and fellow board members, school system and community members were on-hand at the rally, presumably to honor Barron as a finalist for the national award, in advance of any final decision about the honor. But Barker soon told the assembly that there was another reason that he and others were at the rally, and made the surprise announcement that Barron was officially the nation’s top middle school principal.

“How many of you think you have the best principal in the country? How many of you think you have the best teachers and staff in the country?” said NASSP board member Richard Brown, asking the question to the hundreds of students, teachers, school council and community members who had come for the pep rally. “Laurie, your successful tenure at Smokey Road Middle School is the foundation of your recognition to represent middle level principals across America.”
Brown then presented Barron with a crystal trophy in recognition of her receiving the national award.

Barron in response committed herself to doing the best she could to represent her school, her county and state, and the nation’s middle school principals, “and to represent as best I can what’s right in public schools and how we can help students achieve. There is a lot going on in education that should be celebrated. I will work as hard as I can to live up to this honor.”

Barron thanked past and present Smokey Road staff and the students and parents who attended the event.

“It was so touching to see my colleagues come and attend – Aaron Corley, Sean Dye, Steve Allen, Blake Bass and Steve Barker,” said Barron. “I am so proud of our students, so proud of the staff here, and it was so wonderful to have my family here with me today.”

Chairman Sue Brown during the assembly noted Smokey Road’s many honors in the eight years that she has been principal of the school, and noted the high achievement of both her faculty and her students.

“None of this is possible without a strong, energetic, forward-thinking leader who is willing to allow teachers to teach and supports their work when they want to try innovative ideas,” she said.

Also at the assembly was Gov. Nathan Deal’s Eduction Policy Advisor Kristin Bernhard, who read a letter from Governor Deal stating, “I know you share my belief that education is the key to Georgia’s future. It is my goal to provide a world class education for our children, and it is through the commitment of professionals like you that this goal will be achieved. Our state and, more importantly, our children are stronger as a result of your outstanding contributions to education. The Principal of the Year designation is not only an honor for you, but also a measure of tangible educational quality for the students of Smokey Road Middle School. Thank you for continuing to move education in Georgia forward, and congratulations again on your exceptional accomplishment.”
Both school system administrators and Barron’s colleagues gave their own assessment of the honor she received.

“I am extremely proud of Dr. Laurie Barron’s selection as the principal of the year. Her award is extremely well deserved,” said Coweta school system Assistant Superintendent Dr. Guy Marc, a former principal who chose Barron for her first administrative position as his assistant principal. “Dr. Barron has exhibited multiple exemplary leadership qualities typical of Coweta County School System administrators. Moreover, she has spent countless hours dedicated to improving student achievement, student growth and development, and overall student well-being.”

“Working alongside Dr. Barron has been one of the highlights of my career,” said Aaron Corley, assistant principal at Welch Elementary School and Barron’s former assistant principal at Smokey Road. “Her vision, drive, and unwavering commitment to excellence are both admirable and infectious. Like any great leader, she believes in those around her and challenges them to grow beyond what they think is possible. She is a model school leader and I am a better person for having known and worked with her.”

Barron has served as the principal of Smokey Road Middle school since 2004. A 17-year educator, Barron taught English at Newnan High School for six years before becoming an assistant principal at Arnall Middle School and moving to Smokey Road as principal, Jackson said.

Barron currently serves on the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education Partnership Council and is an active member of the Georgia Association of Middle School Principals and the Georgia and National Association of Secondary School Principals, and has recently served on the Governor’s Education Advisory Board for Principals. She has also received the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award and the Georgia Association of Middle School Principals Exemplary Leadership Award. 

Barron was named the Georgia Middle School Principal of the Year by the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals (GASSP) in February of 2012. Also at that time, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) began its search for the 2013 national Principal of the Year from among the state principals of the year selected by the state associations.

“NASSP’s experience has taught us time and again that nothing is more challenging or essential to school improvement than changing the school’s culture,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “With genuine concern for her students’ welfare, Laurie Barron has established at Smokey Road Middle School a model climate of what the Breaking Ranks school improvement framework requires - a personalized environment where every student is known and feels valued.”
Although the turnaround process took several years and a commitment from the entire community, the transformation at Smokey Road would not have been possible without Barron’s leadership, said Jackson. Since 2003, absenteeism has decreased 11 percent and students have raised state test scores in reading and math by more than 20 percent. The diverse middle school, which made AYP for the last six years, was named a 2011 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School for being high-achieving while serving a large number of students living in poverty. It has also received distinction as a Georgia Title I Distinguished School for the past four years.