Archive for Wednesday, August 11, 2004

THS principal ready to dig in

August 11, 2004

Tatia Shelton's not sure what a principal is supposed to look like.

But she's often been told she doesn't look like one.

Shelton, Tonganoxie High School's new principal, replaces Mike Bogart, who retired this year after being an administrator at THS since 1987.

"Mike was such a commanding figure -- he is tall," Shelton said, noting that Lee Smith, who was principal before Bogart, is also tall.

"And so here I come, I'm this 5-foot-6, little 125-pounder," Shelton said, "I don't know what the stereotype of a principal should be, but I get a lot of that -- you don't look like a principal."

But she is, and now Shelton has a degree to prove it. In June she completed requirements for her master's degree in educational leadership and administration at Kansas State University. And she holds a bachelor's degree in secondary education from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson said he's pleased to have Shelton on board.

"I think she's a very creative and innovative individual," Erickson said. "She's hard working and has a great deal of energy. I think she's a strong communicator and will relate to students and parents very well."

And, Erickson said, Shelton's leadership skills will link her to her predecessors.

"I think she'll carry on the strong tradition of leadership that Mr. Bogart established over the last nine years and she'll build on what he had developed," Erickson said.

New challenges

The 37-year-old Shelton moved to Tonganoxie in June with her husband, Brad Shelton, and their children, Brett, who will be in the fourth grade, and McKinna, who will be in the first grade.

Since then the high school's new leader has been busy getting to know the community, as well as the school.

By last week -- the second week of her work at the high school -- she was settling into her new office. A floral curtain draped the window. Her desk was neat.

Shelton smiled as she described herself as "an organizational freak."

But that doesn't mean Tonganoxie High School's new principal is inflexible.

"I have to be organized," Shelton said, "But I'm not to the point where everything has to be rigid."

And she's experienced. During the 2003-2004 school year Shelton worked as an assistant principal at Garden City High School in southwest Kansas.

Her work there had different challenges than Shelton expects to see in Tonganoxie.

For instance, Shelton said, 56 percent of the students were minorities and of those, many were non-English speaking students. And while in Garden City, she dealt with a bomb threat and gang-related problems.

Looking ahead

In Tonganoxie she hopes to be able to focus on more positive issues.

She'd like to have students complete a senior project before graduating.

"They pick a topic, research it, complete the project and give a presentation to a panel of judges," Shelton said. "They already do the senior interview, so it will all tie very nicely into place."

The senior interview, she said, consists of having students prepare a resume, research a business and participate in a mock job interview with that business.

And, Shelton plans to extend the Pride program from the junior high into the high school. Pride recognizes and rewards students who make good grades and demonstrate exemplary behavior.

"I know we do a lot of good things here," Shelton said. "But I want to make it even better."

And, if the school's $25.3 million bond issue passes in November, Shelton will be involved in helping the school make that transition.

If voters approve the bond issue, the district will construct a new middle school at the south end of Tonganoxie. The existing K-6 grade school would be transformed into a K-4 school, and the high school/junior high school campus would be changed into a 9-12 high school.

Shelton said she hopes the bond issue passes.

"If you update a facility, students tend to take a lot more pride in it," Shelton said. "They become proud of where they're at and they want to do better. If we're trying to encourage our kids, we've got to put together the resources and help them out. Again, we're doing good with what we have, but we're not doing great."

As an example, Shelton said high school physics is taught in the basement of what was formerly a church. The building is between the high school and junior high.

"Megan Simmons, the new physics teacher is going to be excellent -- she's young and energetic," Shelton said.

But because the classroom in the former church basement doesn't have running water, Simmons, who will also teach biology, has to leave her classroom to teach one hour of biology in the high school building every day.

"How can we compete with the Basehor-Linwoods, the Lansings, the Shawnee Mission and Lawrence schools when we have that kind of a facility?" Shelton said.

And, she said, there's the issue of tardies, which can be attributed in part to the number of exterior buildings and the distance the students travel between classes.

Serious business

One issue facing the school district this year is a lawsuit that charges the district with sexual harassment of a former high school student.

Shelton plans to do everything she can to prevent sexual harassment, and other forms of bullying.

"Kids need to be made aware of what is harassment and that it is illegal," Shelton said. "It's not just a violation of school policy, it's a violation of Kansas statute and they need to know you can't do that."

The first step, if there are no witnesses, will be conflict mediation.

"And the next time we have an issue, it's not going to be a conference, it's going to be suspension time," Shelton said.

She wants teachers to be vigilant in watching for and reporting bullying.

"We're going to have to be more aware of it, we're going to have to open our ears, we're going to have to communicate, and I need to know about it," Shelton said. "And if we've got witnesses, we're going to deal with it."

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