By MARINA WATERS
Every morning at Grandview Elementary, Head Principal Rachel Adams greets each student as they enter the school. Whether it’s raining or 20 degrees outside, she offers a smile and greeting as they arrive. But little do the students know that’s when they also offer Adams her favorite part of being a school principal.
“Honestly my favorite thing to do every day is car line,” Adams said. “It’s welcoming the students every day and hopefully making them feel like they are welcome here, they are wanted here, they are loved here. It’s important that they’re here. That’s really important to me. The weather might not always be the best, but that’s my favorite part.”
But Adams’ day doesn’t just involve smiling at kids as they walk through the door; she’s constantly looking for ways to better serve the teachers of Grandview who can then expertly serve students — and it’s her dedication to that mission that earned her this year’s Principal of the Year Award for Washington County Schools.
Adams is in her second year as head principal after serving as an assistant principal at Jonesborough Middle School for two years and a teacher at Jonesborough Elementary School for eight. Since then, Adams has been selected as one of the state’s 25 principals in the Governor’s Academy for School Leadership and is also part of the Tennessee Rural Principals Network.
Adams’ recognition as the principal of the year comes after Grandview reached its Reward School status, the highest distinction a school can receive. And for that honor, she points to the talent at Grandview.
“I think when I came to Grandview, I recognized there was a lot of talent here with the teaching staff and the support staff,” Adams said. “I think I saw a lot of potential and it just took focusing everyone. The vision was there, it was just putting all the pieces together. I have very high expectations, but I just truly believe that all students can learn at high levels and that we just have to push them to their fullest potential.”
Grandview’s success is attributed to hard working teachers, support staff and students, but it also comes from Adams’ focus on highlighting others’ strengths.
“Instead of trying to fix things that are wrong or trying to shape someone into something they’re not, I try to identify where people’s strengths are and let them use their strengths,” Adams explained, “whether it’s the way they’re teaching, what committee they serve on, the grade level they’re in or the subject they’re teaching.”
It might be hard to believe that someone who has dedicated so much of her time each day to the betterment of teachers and students ever wanted to anything other than teach and lead. But there was a time that Adams thought she’d be behind an operating table instead of a principal’s desk.
“What’s funny is, all through school I wanted to be a doctor. I was going to be a doctor. I knew that through high school and that’s what drove my path and everything. Then my first year in college over Christmas break, I shadowed a doctor in surgery and I said, ‘Oh. Nope, not for me,’ Adams said, laughing. “So then it was just a natural decision. I realized then that teaching is what I wanted to do.”
Instead, Adams has taken her natural love for teaching and leadership and honed those skills into administrative work.
“I love to teach people and watch them grow,” she said. “One of the things I would do (as a teacher) was help other teachers. I really enjoy working with other teachers and serving in leadership roles as a teacher. The reason I wanted to be principal was I love to help grow other teachers and help them do their best.”
Though being a principal sometimes includes mountains of paperwork and disciplinary duties, it also involves keeping an eye on the big picture, which Adams said is the most important part of her job.
“All of the teachers here, all of the support staff here, every person here, our number one priority is what’s best for our students and their learning,” Adams said. “We are thinking about what’s best for the whole child academically, socially, emotionally, physically. I think that’s important. If you’re not thinking about what’s best for the child, it’s easy to lose some children.”
“I always make decisions thinking about, ‘What if this was my child?’ That’s something that I think is really important, too, when dealing with parents and teachers and support staff. We always have to think about that. I think that helps a lot.”
Part of focusing on the “whole student” also involves recognizing student success and strengths. In fact, it’s typical at Grandview to see a smiling student heading off to the principals office with a positive referral in hand to share a recent success and grab a goodie from the treasure box.
“This morning I had a third grade student come into the office to do her positive office referral. She had her multiplication test, which she had made a 100 on — which is fantastic. She had her data notebook, showing me where she was, which was about 40 percent and jumped to 100 percent. She was so excited. (It’s good) to see the success and the growth in the students and also in the faculty and staff.”
Adams doesn’t plan to stop here. Her expectations are high and she already has plans for next year, (which include focusing on how teachers and staff can better serve students who have had traumatic experiences as well as digging into test scores later this year.) But all of her goals start and end in the same place; and that just happens to be the place where she starts and ends her day — with students.
“My vision is that every student, first and foremost, is able to build a relationship with someone here and that they feel like they are welcomed, they’re wanted, they’re loved,” She said. “If we don’t build those relationships with students then all of those other things, academics, test scores, it’s not going to be the same. So the first thing is I think we’ve got to make them feel welcomed and wanted.”