Laurie Barron, principal of Smokey Road Middle School in Newnan, Georgia, was named 2013 MetLife/NASSP National Middle Level Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). She strongly supports arts education as part of the curriculum for educating the whole student.
“I am very passionate about this idea and truly believe that our students’ participation and excelling in the arts has had a dramatic impact on our students’ achievement,” Barron said. Music in particular plays a key role, she said.
She added that as an administrator, her goal is educating the whole child. Smokey Road Middle School is the first and only middle schools to have both its band and chorus programs receive the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) Exemplary Performance Award.
Barron holds a doctor of education from the University of Sarasota, a master of education degree from the State University of West Georgia, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia.
NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti said, “With genuine concern for her students’ welfare, Laurie Barron has established at Smokey Road Middle School … a personalized environment where every student is known and feels valued.” October is National Principals Month.
Marc Guy, assistant superintendent of Coweta County Schools, said Barron “motivates her students and teachers daily and she … is always moving throughout the hallways each morning, encouraging students, listening to concerns, and monitoring everything that takes place.”
Smokey Road is regularly recognized for other achievements as well. The diverse middle school, which made Adequate Yearly Progress for the past six years, was named a 2011 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School for high-achievement while serving a large number of students in poverty.
Barron’s school has 750 students, 94 staff (63 certified), and two assistant principals. A former high school English teacher, she said that when she came to Smokey Road, she was the fourth principal at the school in five years. “The first thing I had to do was convince the staff that I planned to stay,” she said. “More than anything, the school needed stability.”
Then she set about building bridges at the school between the staff, students, and parents. “We had no Parent Teachers Organization (PTO), no mission, and no vision. We had to work together in order to accomplish anything.” Barron said.
Today teachers and administrator collaborate on effective ways to educate students, parents are involved, and local businesses also help support the school with donated items as well as volunteer hours. All of those efforts paid off. Among Smokey Road’s achievements:
- State of Georgia Title I Distinguished School, fourth consecutive year
- Georgia Breakout Middle School, GASSP, 2011
- Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Silver Award for Greatest Gains for Achievement, 2011
A Vision Statement and Mission
Smokey Road Middle School has two guiding principles:
Mission: Striving to Reach and Motivate Students
Vision: We ensure that each student attends school, in a safe environment, feels valued as an individual, and learns the appropriate curriculum for future success.
Barron also said that everyone believes that every part of the curriculum is as important as the next because it helps students thrive in all areas. So, the music teachers and classroom teachers work together to accomplish what is best for each student, she said.
And music, she says plays an important role as “part of the school day, not an after-school activity.”
She appreciates music even though she is a sports nut and professes no musical skills. “People know I am such a strong supporter of music programs that they say ‘You must have played in your high school band,’ but I am not musical at all. I can’t play an instrument and I can’t hold a note, but I know what music can do for kids.”
Barron is also proud of Smokey Road’s football team, which will compete for the Coweta County Middle School Athletic League football title for the thirteenth time in 14 years on October 30. If they will, it will be the third CCMSA title in a row for the Wildcats and the ninth in school history.
Even there music plays a role. The school pep band plays at the football games.
Barron she said knows students are proud of what they achieve as they learn music, but they also learn teamwork, discipline and a good work ethic. “It helps prepare them for life,” she said.
She also points to student achievements for students who take music compared to those who don’t. Among students who took band and chorus, 100 percent of them passed both standardized reading and language arts tests, while 97 percent passed their math and science tests and 94 percent passed the social studies test.
By comparison, among students who took neither band nor or chorus, 93 percent passed the reading test, 89 percent passed language arts, 81 percent passed math, 70 percent passed science, and 68 percent passed the social studies test.
Barron also notes a number of Performing Arts Honors for 2012 earned by Smokey Road students
- Earned superior ratings at Large Group Performance Evaluation (LGPE)
- Wind Ensemble performed highest level of music at LGPE in Coweta County History for middle school band (Superior Ratings)
- Beginning Band was the only 6th grade band in Coweta County to participate at LGPE (Superior Ratings)
- Performed at the Disney Magic Music Days in Orlando Florida
- Invited as one of six schools in the state of Georgia to perform at University of Georgia Mid-Fest Percussion Ensemble and Winter Guard
- Won the Scholastic A Concert Division at the Southern Association for Performing and Visual Arts Championship for Percussion Ensemble (Percussion Ensemble)
- Placed 4th at the Southern Association for Performing and Visual Arts Championship Chorus
- Had three students selected for All-State Chorus (highest honor in state)
- Earned superior ratings at Large Group Performance Evaluation
Barron said it is important for middle school students to feel the connectedness of a peer group, and music class is the perfect opportunity for that.
“Even if students don’t have any experience, I find they can be successful quickly. Not every kid will go on to play in a symphony, but when they learn to play an instrument or to sight read, it gives the confidence to succeed elsewhere in school. Music class can also help to break down barriers between students. We need to make sure music programs stay in schools,” she added.
National Association of Middle School Principals
Photo courtesy of the Newnan Times Herald
Roz Fehr, NAfME managing editor for news, October 24, 2012. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)