Smith, Henderson set high goals for BHS, AJHS

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2008

With the beginning of the new school year have come some changesin leadership as well, with both Brookhaven High School andAlexander Junior High School undergoing regime changes.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said theaddition of new principals Dr. Jay Smith at BHS and the promotionof Roderick Henderson at AJHS has already proven to be a positivestep for the district.

“Actually the first week has been outstanding, and we have had areally strong start,” Barrett said. “Both Mr. Henderson and Dr.Smith have done an excellent job of communicating with theirfaculty their expectations, and they also have done a good job ofsetting the tone with students on the new school year. I think thatabsolutely bodes well for the rest of the year.”

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Smith is beginning his first year at BHS, but he has been aprincipal for 14 years. Smith was the principal at Wingfield HighSchool before his most recent tenure at Gary Road Elementary Schoolin Jackson. He said with the exception of some scheduling programissues, his first week as a Panther has gone as smoothly aspossible.

“The biggest issue so far has been the scheduling,” he said.”The program was down and the counselors have had to do it by handand it took forever. They’re just about done working with theschedules.”

So far there are two changes that Smith has implemented, and hesaid they both are aimed at making school a safer environment forthe students. The first, he said, is to crack down on tardies.

“Our tardy policy is very strict,” he said. “The kids will be inclass. The tardy policy is centered on safety.”

The tardy policy issues a 20-minute after-school suspension tostudents who come to class late, to be served the following schoolday after the offense. The policy lays out clearly why there’s noleeway in the rules.

“In order to establish, keep and maintain a safe environment, itis essential to have students reporting to class consistently ontime throughout the school day. It is our belief that when studentsreport to class on time, the safety of our students is increasedand the instructional time of our teachers is increased,” thepolicy says.

And on the same note, Smith said, students will not be allowedto roam at lunch time. He said the teachers now escort the studentsto lunch and stay in the cafeteria with them, which keeps thestudents from finding trouble while they’re unattended.

“The issue was the lack of adult supervision during lunch time,”he said. “But this decision wasn’t made because something happened,but because we’re trying to prevent something from happening.”

Meanwhile, Smith said, he’s going to be assessing things hisfirst year, and implementing positive change as he goes.

When Smith accepted the job in April, he laid out threepriorities. They were “the safety of students, high qualityinstruction and extracurricular and athletic teams second tonone.”

And one step he wants to take in the academic arena is toeventually raise BHS’s Level Three rating to a Level Five. He hasexperience in that area, as Gary Road made the same climb duringhis time there.

“It won’t happen overnight, no doubt,” he said. “But I know thatwith the staff and the students we have, we can absolutely achievea Level Four or Level Five.”

Meanwhile, Smith said he has been proud to see how supportivethe Brookhaven community is of their educators.

“I experienced that as far back as April when I was hired,” hesaid. “Folks have really rolled out the red carpet for me, andreally been good to me. This community has been outstanding intheir support.”

Smith is the son of Lincoln County natives Donna Kyzar Smith andJ. Hugh Smith.

And since he has family here in Brookhaven, Smith said he’d likefor this one to be a permanent move. He said he’s building a househere, and hopes to retire here.

“This is not just about my professional life, but my personallife,” he said. “In seven years I’ll have 25 years in education. Idon’t see going anywhere else.”

Meanwhile, Alexander Junior High School’s new man at the helm isnot quite so new to Brookhaven or to AJHS. Henderson said one thinghe’s excited about as he takes over the reins at Alexander is thetradition he is inheriting.

“Alexander has always been, I’d like to say, the school that hasthe most tradition in our area,” he said. “It’s an honor to be aprincipal where so many people, including my father (BrookhavenPolice Chief Pap Henderson), have attended and graduated.”

Henderson said his first week of school has gone well, though hesaid there have been a lot of changes. He said while he’s enjoyinghis new responsibility, it’s a little bittersweet since he missesbeing a coach just a little.

“Everything is different for me, because the responsibility isgreater,” he said. “My years as a coach will help, though I do misscoaching a little. It’s hard to get it out of your system, but thething I love about this job is that I get to wear so manyhats.”

And those years in coaching are helping him connect with hisstudents, he said, as they respond well to having an approachableleader.

“It helps me relate to my students,” he said. “On the playingfield, you have 100 different personalities, and in the hallwaysyou have about 500. A lot of these students just need someone totalk to them.”

He said his approach is to let the students know they’reappreciated, because in today’s world, nothing is accomplishedwithout working together.

“Kids have to believe you care about them,” he said. “We aseducators are accountable for everything, including test scores,and if they think we don’t care, then they don’t care. We need tolet them know we’re preparing them to be a positive part ofsociety, and we have to be firm, but fair.”

Henderson said his main emphasis, change-wise, has been on thedress code and student accountability.

“We’ve always had a dress code, but we’re putting a greateremphasis on it,” he said. “It’s about student accountability. We’reimplementing several programs to target students who haven’treached their potential through the years.”

And one way AJHS administrators hope to do that is through aparent and teacher organization that stresses communication betweenthe adults in a child’s life.

“It’s basically designed to keep the parents informed and toemphasize our open-door policy,” Henderson said. “Mostly we want totell parents that here at Alexander, their kids will be safe andthey’ll be taught in an orderly environment where they’ll betreated fairly.”

Henderson said there will be an organizational meeting for theparents and teachers group on Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. where parentswill be encouraged to ask questions and to take a more hands-onrole in their children’s education.

“We have the best staff in the district and we’re here toprepare these kids for life and their upcoming educationalchallenges,” he said. “Our motto is, ‘Honoring the tradition whileachieving academic excellence,’ and it’s our goal to do that everyday.”