Shifts within the system began when Dremah Finison, Mayfield Elementary principal, decided to take the school coordinated health position.
“Dee Dee brings a vast wealth of knowledge to the position. Part of her knowledge comes from being around elementary kids,” said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, city schools director. “She gets the grand scope of what should be happening; everything from flu shots to the Ronald McDonald clinic. She has a lot of great ideas.”
Ringstaff maintained Finison would take a creative approach to coordinated school health.
“Coordinated school health is a very important program of Tennessee public schools and we think Ms. Finison, with her wealth of knowledge, can really bring it to a whole new level,” Ringstaff said.
Finison’s new role will allow her to have a continued impact on city school children.
“With the increased emphasis on healthy children and healthy families, and the impact that emotional and physical health has on student achievement, I have a unique challenge ahead of me to make Coordinated School Health an integral component of Cleveland City Schools' overall striving for excellence in academics,” Finison said.
The remaining four changes came about as a domino effect from Finison’s transition in roles.
Ringstaff asked Kelly Kiser, Blythe-Bower principal, to take over at Mayfield.
“With all of the transition happening at Mayfield, with the quick growth and very crowded building, we felt an experienced individual would do better than a new principal,” Ringstaff said. “... You’ve got to know what you are talking about. Dee Dee was instrumental with what she did during the growth.”
Mayfield experienced rapid growth over a five-year period. The school’s population went from the expected 350 to a total of 560. Rooms used for art, music, and extra services were altered into classrooms to accommodate the population demand.
“We are still expecting lots of growth in the Mayfield area,” Ringstaff said. “Kelly brings a vast array of experience. He has been a very successful principal.”
Kiser said he is transferring from one great school to another.
“What makes it difficult is you have people you work with and people who are like your family. People who love you,” Kiser said. “That is what makes it hard.”
“Anytime you have relationships with people who have helped you be successful, it is never easy when you part ways.”
Plans are already being made for what can be done at Mayfield.
“The first thing you've got to do is you go in and you meet the people. Your staff is your most valuable resource. It is the leader of any organization, but in particular the school building. Get to know those people,” Kiser said. “Take stock from there as to what the needs are. I am coming in from the outside. I am lucky to have some experience going in, but the staff are the experts at Mayfield Elementary.”
“What I bring is energy — positive [energy],” Kiser said. “I think I bring a desire to work hard and to be a servant leader for both staff and students. I’m willing to roll up sleeves and do whatever needs to be done.”
Several interviews were held to replace Kiser at Blythe-Bower. Interviewees were asked 14 questions by a panel of central office staff, two current sitting principals, a Blythe-Bower teacher and a Blythe-Bower parent. Ringstaff said the interview was rigorous.
“There are great candidates out there inside and out [of Cleveland schools]. We are very open about that. We don’t tap people for jobs,” Ringstaff said. “We don’t care if they are in Cleveland schools currently. Bradley County has a bunch of great people, as well, and we will look at them, if they apply.”
Joel Barnes, Cleveland High School assistant principal, interviewed before the panel and received the position as principal at Blythe-Bower.
He said he is excited to get started, although he will not start officially until June.
“Blythe-Bower has a wonderful reputation in the community as far as teachers caring about students, and that is right in line with my vision,” Barnes said. “We are there for the kids to do whatever works best for them. No matter how hard we have to work.”
According to Ringstaff, Barnes will do well at Blythe-Bower.
“Kelly will be there as a mentor if he needs help,” Ringstaff said. “Barnes is 100 percent capable of being the principal. He is more than ready.”
Barnes has spent his time in education cultivating positive relationships with his students.
“We could give you all the teaching strategies in the world, but if that relationship is not there, then it is not going to be successful,” Barnes said.
During his teaching years, Barnes would spend the first two weeks of every school year getting to know his students.
“We didn’t do a lot of school work, but it paid off in the long run. Kids will perform for you when they like you and when they think you care about them,” Barnes said. “That is what makes the most successful experience, having that relationship.”
CHS Principal Autumn O’Bryan requested Zach Riggins, Mayfield assistant principal, to fill Barnes’ position.
Riggins began his teaching career as a band teacher at Cleveland Middle School before tackling the class at the high school level. Riggins then took the position as assistant principal at Mayfield. O’Bryan said the high school was eager to have him back.
Riggins responded in kind.
“I am humbled and honored to return to Cleveland High,” Riggins said. “I have the deepest respect for our school community and look forward to working with Cleveland High School's tremendous staff and student body.”
He said the decision did not come easily.
“This decision was very tough to make. I love my Mayfield family and Cleveland High is like my second home,” Riggins said. “I was blessed with the opportunity to return to CHS and look forward to working with my former colleagues, friends, and students.”
Finison shared similar sentiments concerning her departure from Mayfield.
“Let me begin by saying that the children and families of Mayfield School are extremely important to me and will continue to be important. They have provided me with many cherished moments,” Finison said. “My new calling will be to coordinate the school health program, as well as supervise the summer and transition programs for Cleveland City Schools.”
Interviews will be completed within the next several weeks to fill Riggin’s former position at Mayfield.
Ringstaff spoke highly of city school personnel.
“I’ve never been around a group of principals like we have here,” Ringstaff said. “They bring their A game every day. Our principals deserve [the credit]. They are top notch.”
Very specific qualities are looked for in interviewees for any job within the system.
“We like high energy. We like people who love kids. We like people who love talking to parents,” Ringstaff said. “I am a firm believer in you hire for character and you train skill.”