Stacey Jolley's homeroom gears up for to start of the school year on Wednesday. (Heather Mann for The Tribune)
HOLLY POND – Cullman County Schools were back in session Wednesday morning with the usual hectic feelings that come with a new school year: parents have to drop their children off on time, students have to readjust to not being able to sleep in, locker issues, last-minute fees and other unexpected problems completed the morning. Holly Pond Middle School was no different, but Cyndi Roden, the new principal, was there to help.
Roden was the principal of Hanceville Middle School for 10 years before she transferred. She put in for the transfer when the position opened up because she felt that it would be a positive change for her as well as her son, who also transferred to Holly Pond Middle.
"My husband, Rusty, teaches at the high school, so I know the community's great,” Roden smiled. “The staff here are like a family, and I'm super excited to be here!"
When asked if she would be doing things differently than the previous principal, Roden stated that her main priority is getting feedback from the staff.
"Right now, I'm just trying to figure out what works smoothly and what doesn't. When we figure out what doesn't work, we can start trying to figure out how to best improve it for the students here. Mostly though, I just want to make sure that everyone feels welcome and knows that our students come first."
Another new face at the school was Kim Lindsey, the secondary curriculum coordinator for Cullman County Schools, who was there acting as a Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) representative to help get things running smoothly. Her presence there, as well as other officials’ presences at other county schools, was part of Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette's plan to make the CCBOE central office more hands-on with the schools it works with.
"Dr. Barnette has really changed the focus of the central office to where we're here to help. We had a chart yesterday with all the schools and were asked to put our names beside the different campuses, so I'm here today to help out Holly Pond Middle and High Schools. Right now, we're making sure that all the students have a full schedule, that everyone is in the right homeroom, and that everyone knows how to open their lockers. For the teachers, if they don't have something they need, then I can get a list started so I can get them their teaching materials as soon as possible,” Lindsey said. “Once things here start running smoothly, I'll go up to the high school. Since they don't really have problems with lockers and stuff like that, it's more about being a smiling face and letting them know that you're there for them."
One person that most, if not all, HPMS students get to know well is Melissa Campbell, the guidance counselor. Campbell has been at Holly Pond for 13 years, long enough to see the school go through some dramatic changes.
"Since I began, we (the middle school) have a school building that we don't have to share with the high school. We have full-time SROs (school resource officers). I started out as a part-time counselor because there wasn't a full-time position, so I was going to two different schools. First it was here and Garden City, then it was here and Welti, then I got to stay here full-time,” said Campbell. “Of course, learning strategies have changed and teaching has evolved, and there are more options for classes and student activities. Technology is a must, and we're doing a lot to encourage unity and working with groups. We divided the school up into four houses, inspired by the Harry Potter series, and the students earn points through games, physical activities, attendance and ideals that we want to promote like good citizenship. They have to work like a unified group in order to win the trophy at the end of the year."
When asked about the challenges she would face as a counselor, Campbell stated that her job often involves helping students focus and find a balance between home life and school.
"We have to teach these students to not be distracted by things going on at home or outside of school, and this involves letting them know that if they have a problem, something that they need an adult's help for, then they have many adults here who can help or lead them to the resources that they need."
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