Thursday, August 29, 2013

A New Facility for Our Students


On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Houston Academy, I am pleased to announce that we will break ground this fall on a new Student Activities Center and Training Facility. For many years, our students have trained in our weight room in the Killingsworth Gymnasium.  Over time, however, this facility has become inadequate to support the needs of our growing athletic and extracurricular programs. 

Most of you know, last year we hired AJ Howard as our strength and conditioning coach. As a result, I believe we have seen remarkable progress in HA’s strength program. Building this facility will serve to enhance the outstanding job that Coach Howard and our other coaches and teachers are doing to help all our students obtain and maintain the highest levels of health and fitness.

The new Student Activities Center, which will be between 8,000 and 9,000 square feet in size, will house locker rooms, offices, and a state-of-the art weight room and cardiovascular training space.  Also, as a part of this project, new girls locker rooms will be constructed in the Killingsworth Gymnasium, and the existing weight room will be converted to much-needed office and storage space.

I should point out that no current tuition dollars are going towards the construction of this building. This project is being completed primarily through the generosity of parents and friends of Houston Academy. I should note, too, that this facility will serve ALL students and families within the HA community. That is, this facility is not only for student athletes.  Our PE classes will use it during the day, and Coach Howard’s services will continue to be offered to any student who would like his help and expertise.

We will be releasing more details about the facility in the very near future, and certainly, we will want to recognize those who have helped to make this happen.  Right now, however, we are thrilled to announce our plans to the entire HA community.

It’s an exciting time to be a Raider!

Dr. Scott D. Phillipps

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Teachers Who Inspire Us

Houston Academy is an institution that prides itself on its fine teaching, and certainly this pride is well deserved.  As I told the teachers at our opening faculty meeting, I believe that teaching is the most noble of professions.  For relatively little pay, they work every day to make this world a better place. Moreover,  for every CEO, star athlete, congressman, musician, doctor, or lawyer out there, there were one or more great teachers who were instrumental in making them who they are.

The older I get and the more experience in education I have, the more I appreciate the fine education I received at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and in my graduate studies. A great number of educators influenced me profoundly. My high school football and wrestling coach, Bob Cloy, taught me tenacity, resiliency, AND that a great coach SHOULD also be a great classroom teacher. My high school French teacher, Susan Kokoszka, taught me to revel in a culture that was not my own and that uncompromisingly high standards yield incredible results. In my undergraduate and graduate education, I was exposed to some incredible minds: Dan Franklin, Mynra Gantner, Art Casciato, Steven Bauer, Jack Kirby, and Ryan Barilleaux, to name a few.  However, if I had to pick one teacher to honor as having the most profound influence on my life, it would have to be my undergraduate history and American studies professor, Elliot Gorn. 

As a teacher and a student, I have observed that effective educators can take a variety of forms.  I have learned a great deal from teachers with disparate methods and demeanors.  “Elliot,” as he instructed us to call him, had a rare combination of intellectualism and informality that enabled him to impart a great deal, while creating one of the most comfortable learning environments I have ever encountered.  As I got to know him, I was awestruck by his scholarship.   Yet, Elliot never pretended to know all the answers.  Instead, he always found the questions that forced me to think conceptually.   In Elliot’s class, I learned how to make abstract connections relative to complex social phenomenon.  Importantly, though, Elliot never let us forget that society and history deal with real people with real lives, who face real issues. 

I won’t go so far as to say that Elliot taught me how to be a scholar, because I did not really learn that until graduate school, but what he did teach me was how to think like a scholar.   In Elliot’s class learning, for me, became both a pleasure and an obligation.  I genuinely enjoyed the readings, the class discussions, etc.  However, he engendered the kind of personal loyalty that made me determined not to disappoint him in any writing or work I did.  Elliot took my work and my thinking seriously.  This gave me confidence.  Consequently, I pushed myself to intellectual limits I had not previously discovered.  I came to recognize that education is not a product; education is a struggle.  I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that education is a process of disclosure that is not and should not be easy.  I learned that there is much greater satisfaction in unearthing something difficult than in repeating something tired.  I look back on some of my early work in his class, and I think it would have been very easy to mock my clichés, but somehow he taught me to reject them without making me feel like an idiot. 

Nonetheless, my struggle in his classes and my success in his classes helped me decide that I loved learning and loved teaching enough to make learning and teaching my career. As a teacher, I have incessantly worked to give my students the sense of excitement at intellectual development that I found in Elliot Gorn’s class.

The excitement and enthusiasm of a new school year always causes me to reflect on what teachers like Elliot Gorn gave to me and countless other students in his care.  Noting that no one has been inclined to respond to my blog, I would invite the HA community and readers of this blog to share their story of a teacher/coach who inspired them and shaped them.  Please comment below!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Our New Faculty and Staff!

With the bevy of educational reforms that have been imposed on our schools over the last 40 years, it seems that our political and educational leaders have forgotten one key fact: The single most important factor in a student’s learning is the quality of the classroom teacher.[1]

To that point, we have an outstanding faculty at HA. I think most of you know that when my family and I were looking at various headmaster jobs across the Southeast, we weren't merely looking for a job; we were looking for a place to educate and raise our three children. The faculty here at HA is a big part of the reason why we chose to come to Houston Academy.

Houston Academy has been very fortunate to be able to attract and retain a talented and assiduous faculty. That trend has continued with the hires we made this spring and summer. Please allow me to briefly introduce you to the newest members of the HA faculty and staff.

Of course, everyone who has been in the HA community knows what an outstanding educational leader Tammi Holman is. I expected big things from her, as our new Upper School Head, but she has exceeded my lofty expectations. Her innovation, incredible work ethic, scholarship, and keen understanding of children have inspired me. I believe you will see that our Upper School, which is already incredibly strong, will become even stronger under Ms. Holman’s leadership. Ms. Holman has a B.S. and graduate work from Troy University.  

Joel Pendleton is our new Director of Development.  Prior to his appointment at HA, Mr. Pendleton was the Advancement Coordinator for an educational organization called Student Statesman Institute (SSI), which is located in Lansing, Michigan. SSI is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to teaching law, Public Policy, Business, Communications, and Civics to high school students. Joel raised 2/3 of the entire operating budget for SSI who gave him exceedingly high recommendations.   I am very excited about what Joel brings to the proverbial table.  He is dynamic and motivated.

Leanne Todd will be moving into the position of Assistant Director of Development and the Director of Alumni Affairs. Most of you probably all know Ms. Todd, who is an alumna of the school and our Cheerleading Coach. Ms. Todd will be invaluable in developing a full-fledged alumni program for HA. We feel confident that she will be able to help our graduates and their families stay connected to our school. She will also help Joel in his efforts to build ties with current members of the HA community. Mrs. Todd has a B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Alabama.

Vanessia Snell is coming to HA from Dothan High, where she has been the Lead Science Teacher for Dothan City Schools and a teacher of AP chemistry, AP physics, physical science, and biology. Furthermore, Ms. Snell has been an adjunct instructor at both Troy-Dothan and Wallace Community College, has been an AP Chemistry Exam Reader for the College Board, and has served as a consultant to College Board.  Ms. Snell will be teaching AP chemistry, chemistry, and physics this year. Ms. Snell holds a B.S. in Comprehensive Science Education from Troy University, an M.A. in Science Education from Troy-Dothan, and post Master’s Chemistry Certification from the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Patti Woodham Flowers will be joining HA as the HALL (Houston Academy Learning Lab) teacher after over 24 years of experience working with students from diverse backgrounds. In particular, Ms. Flowers has been a K-12 special education teacher working both in a resource room and in the general classroom setting.  Ms. Flowers has a B.S. and M.A. in specific learning disabilities from Troy University.

Leisha Hayes, the former HALL teacher, will be moving to the 3rd grade classroom, full-time. Leisha has an M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Troy-Dothan and a B.S. in Early Childhood Education from Auburn University.  Before coming to HA, Leisha was a teacher in the Houston County School system. We are excited about what Leisha brings to our regular classroom environment. 

Jimmy Riggs comes to us from Savannah, Georgia to teach mathematics. Specifically, he will be taking over the AP Calculus program in our Upper School.  Mr. Riggs is an alumnus of Roanoke College where he graduated Cum Laude with a major in mathematics and a minor in education. Interestingly, Mr. Riggs comes fresh off of a stint of teaching math in Wuhan, China. Furthermore, Mr. Riggs recently attended the College Board’s Summer Institute for Teachers of Advanced Placement Calculus at the University of Alabama. In addition to his teaching duties, Mr. Riggs will be coaching soccer with Rick Vasquez this spring.

Shelly Phillipps will be serving as our Director of Enrollment and Marketing and will be teaching World History.  Shelly has taught for 20 years in both independent and public schools. Additionally, she has served as the Executive Director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Middle Georgia. In this capacity, she was responsible for marketing, fundraising, personnel management, and recruitment. In her teaching career in Georgia, Ms. Phillipps was named Teacher of the Year and STAR Teacher. She holds a B.A. in History and Classics from Miami University (OH), an M.A. in Humanities from Central Michigan University, and an Ed.S. in Educational Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University (TN).

Our most recent new hire this year is Ben Leer who will be joining us in the Mathematics Department.  Ben has moved to Dothan from St. Petersburg, FL. Mr. Leer holds a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Central Florida, and he tutored students for six years at many levels of math including algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus, and SAT preparation. Ben is currently continuing his education at Troy University.  Moreover, Ben also has worked in outdoor education and as an internet marketing specialist. 

Houston Academy is very fortunate to have recruited this level of expertise to HA. It would certainly be impossible to overestimate the contributions that Marion Spivey, Joe Pelham, Ned Jenne, and Karen McCarroll have made to our school and to our children.  However, despite those significant and poignant losses, I believe we have brought a wealth of new talent into the HA community that will continue to offer the best education to students of the Wiregrass region.  I am eager for you to see them in action, and I hope you will join me in warmly welcoming them.

[1] Research suggests that context variables (such as the educational level or income level of the parents of students) are more powerful predictors of student achievement.  It has been estimated that up to 70% of student achievement can be predicted by such variables. However, of the variables that we can control, the most powerful variable is the quality of the classroom teacher.