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.
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.
 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.