Friday, August 18, 2017


I’ve had the pleasure to live and work a number of places, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, Ohio, and New Jersey. Despite the homogenization and transience of modern America, I’ve certainly found that different regions of the country have their own mores and folkways. For example, upon reaching my college destination at Miami University in Ohio, I discovered that, in the North, when you say, “Hey!” to a stranger, you get perplexed looks. It turns out that said stranger becomes confused because he thinks you must know him from somewhere in order to say, “Hey!” Northerners also, it seems, confuse the southern vernacular for “hello” with a grain crop that horses consume. That is not to say that Ohioans are not friendly, but in Ohio, you probably don’t say “hey” to strangers, and you certainly don’t offer them grain.

I have also discovered that, in the South, there is a teasing pecking order. When I moved from Georgia to Tennessee, I discovered that Tennesseans made fun of me for being from Georgia. Likewise, Georgians make fun of Alabamians, Alabamians make fun of Mississippians, Mississippians make fun of Louisianans, and EVERYONE makes fun of Arkansas (*KIDDING*).  Since I spent my childhood and the majority of my adult life in Georgia, we grew up making fun of Alabama.

One of my favorite jokes concerns a high-speed police chase on I-20 East. As the story goes, an Alabama State Police officer and his partner are in hot pursuit of a suspect, who is going over 100 miles per hour. After several miles, the suspect crosses over the Georgia line. As soon as the suspect does so, the Alabama police officer slams violently on his brakes, abandoning his pursuit.
Shocked, his partner asks, “Why did you do that? We almost had him!”

To which the officer responds, “He’s an hour ahead. We’ll never catch him, now.”

Another joke about Alabama that I heard as a child was that the Alabama state motto was, “…because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

I point to these two jokes, because they have some relevance to our change agenda at Houston Academy. We are the only school of our ilk within a 2-hour radius that has a college preparatory mission and a mission to prepare our students to compete in a global society.

When I worked in the Atlanta and Memphis areas, we were afforded the frequent opportunity to collaborate with peer schools. I was friends with division heads, teachers, and coaches who worked at some of the finest college preparatory schools in the country. We met, both formally, and informally, to talk about educational issues. We also visited each other’s schools and classrooms.

The fact is, since we are located in L.A. (Lower Alabama), and we are very isolated from peer schools, we have to work with extra diligence to make sure other parts of the world are not “an hour ahead of us.” It’s also important that we can give a better answer for our educational practices than “…because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Houston Academy has always done a great job fulfilling its mission as an “independent college preparatory institution.” However, what it means to be “prepared” for college and life is different now than it was when I was in high school, and certainly it is different than it was when HA was founded. In this vein, I like to quote former President of the National Association of Independent Schools, Pat Bassett, who said, “We are preparing our children for their future, not your past.”

That’s a nice mantra, but fleshing out what that means, in practical, pedagogical terms is a difficult task. Putting what that means into practice is even more difficult. Fortunately, there is some excellent research out there on what skills and competencies students are going to need to be successful for their future. Moreover, there is a growing body of brain research that scientifically supports best practices for student learning. This requires our teachers to shift from their teaching routines and reflect on their practice in ways that can be extremely uncomfortable. It also means that, sometimes, parents aren’t going to be able to help their children with their homework because lesson and methods might be structured in such a way that is unfamiliar.

It also means that, in very real terms, if we do not change, we will not be able to live up to our mission, and being a market-driven, independent school, we will not be able to survive. No one is going to send their children here if the students are not prepared for college and life.

So, make no mistake, more change is coming. Part of this change involves our new advisory program, curriculum change, and organizational change – all of which I will outline in future blog posts. For right now, let me introduce our most tangible and immediate changes – our new faculty.

Our new 3P teacher is Shanna Boothe (no relation to Karen). Shanna has a B.S. in Elementary Education (K-6 collaborative Education) from Troy University. She has an MS as a reading specialist from Troy University, and she has 13 years of teaching experience.Her husband is Bart Boothe, and she has three children, Logan, in the 7th grade, who will be attending HA, Cason, in the 4th grade, and Katy Claire in the 2nd grade.

Hannah Braswell will be teaching lower school art. Hannah has a  degree in Art from  Asbury college, 1991, and is coming to us after a 25 year teaching career in Dothan City Schools. Hannah is no stranger to HA, as she has served in the past as our head volleyball and softball coach.

James Brown will be teaching Honors 10th grade English and 11th Grade AP English Language. James has a B.A. in English from Armstrong State University and an M.A. in English from the University of Tennessee. He has a long independent school teaching history, but most recently, he taught and was the curriculum coordinator and professional development director at Benedictine in Savannah GA. Jim has a daughter, Ellen, who is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia living in Atlanta.

Natalie Cromer will be teaching Middle School social studies. Natalie has been a teacher and grade-level chair at Hidden Lake Elementary School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Troy Dothan. She is married to Terry Cromer, and has two daughters who attend HA – Brooklyn who is in 8th grade and Allie who is in 4P

Jill Dykes is also returning to HA after a very short hiatus. This time, she will be teaching kindergarten. Jill is a fellow Georgian, with a B.A. in Early Childhood Education from Valdosta State University. She taught at HA, previously, for 11 years, and has also served as the Dothan Cotillion Director. Jill and her husband Jim have three children at HA – Ellis – 11th grade, Sullivan in 9th grade, and Boland, in 8th grade.

Jennifer Gaye is our new English Department Chair. She will also be teaching 11th grade English and 9th grade English, and will be helping to form our new literary magazine. Another native Georgian, Jennifer has a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in English Education from Georgia State University. Most recently, Jennifer was the English department chair at University Liggett School in Gross Pointe Woods Michigan. She has moved to Dothan with the love of her life, Phillip McCohnell.

Brian Jackson will be our new director of marketing and communications and will be continuing his soccer coaching duties at HA, as well as working with our football kickers. Brian has a B.S. in Sports Management from Ball State University in Indiana. From 2009-2015 He was the events manager at Ft. Rucker. In addition, he was a professional football kicker for 9 years in the arena league, winning two championships. He is married to Stephanie Jackson with whom he has a three-year-old son, Korbin.

Ann Jordan will be teaching Middle School English, after an extremely successful career in Dothan City Schools. Ann graduated from Troy with a B.S. in Secondary Education and a major in English and a minor in Journalism. She is married to Mark Jordan with whom she has two grown children.

Rachel King will be an assistant in 3P. Rachel holds a bachelor of Education from the University of Memphis. She has been a lead kindergarten and 1st grade teacher at Power Center Academy and Snowden School in Memphis, TN. Rachael has moved to Dothan with her fiancée who will be attending ACOM, and they are looking forward to seeing what Dothan has to offer.

Ronda Paoletti will teach 5th grade choir, MS Drama, US Drama, MS Choir and US Choir. She has a Masters of Music from the University of Florida and a Bachelor of Music from the University of South Carolina with a specialty in music and voice performance.  She comes to us from Valwood School in Valdosta. Georgia. She is married to Dar. Karl Paoletti, Jr who teaches voice at Wallace College and is the music department chair. Her son, Nicholas, will be a senior at HA, and her daughter, Sophia, will be a 5th grader.

Jessica Pineda will be teaching 5th grade, and is coming to us from the American Cooperative School of La Paz in La Paz, Bolivia. Jessica holds a Bachelor of Arts from Ashford University and an M.S. from University of Buffalo. She, and her husband, Craig (our new Head of Upper School) have two children who will be attending HA – Nate, who will be in 5th, and Emily, who will be in 3rd grade.

Craig Selig, our new Upper School Head,  has been the Head of School at two different independent schools in Latin America, most recently as the Superintendent at the Cooperative School of La Paz in La Paz Bolivia. That actually means that we have three administrators on campus now who have served as Headmasters. Craig has a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Brunswick in Nova Scotia and an MA from the University of Buffalo. I’ve already described their family, but one question I have gotten from folks is how a family with such vast international experience will adjust to Dothan. What I can say is that while we were interviewing Craig via Skype they were without potable water for a week or so at a time. So, my thought was that just the fact that we have running water every day makes Dothan a little slice of heaven!

Cindy Reyner started towards the end of last year as our receptionist. She has worked 14 years as a teacher assistant and office assistant in grades K-5. She also worked in personnel at Flowers Hospital. She has done an outstanding job, already!

Mary Sanders will be our new Extended Day Program Director. Mary comes to us with 26 years of experience in childcare, including in-home care, a US Naval preschool, and private and church preschools in Virginia, South Carolina, and Alabama. Mary loves working with children, a well as senior citizens.

Elizabeth Whaley will be teaching Upper and Middle School Mathematics. She comes to us from Daleville High School, where she was also a math teacher. Elizabeth has a degree in Mathematics from Troy University with a minor in Business Administration. Interestingly, she’s also a licensed cosmetologist and licensed homebuilder. She has four grown children who are all in various stages of earning their degrees, undergraduate and graduate

Lucy Woodson will be teaching upper school Spanish. She has earned a B.A. from California State University, Bakersfield in Spanish and Art History, with a minor in French. Lucy is coming to us from a stint teaching Spanish and AP Spanish at Gilroy High School in Gilroy, CA. She and her husband, Kevin, have a 16 month old baby girl, and they are coming to Dothan where they will be close to Kevin’s family.

Please join me in welcoming all these wonderful teachers into the HA family!