There's one day before schools starts, and Upson-Lee Middle School Principal Patsy Dean is filling out paperwork, answering calls, replying to emails, talking with teachers and making sure everything can go as smoothly as possible for the first day of school.
The hectic day doesn't appear to affect Dean, as a smile graces her face as she handles each situation. That is just one attribute that has made Dean a recognizable force in education.
A long list of accomplishments accompany Dean's resume as she has led her school to be a Lighthouse School to Watch and was named Georgia's Middle School Principal of the Year award. Now she is once again receiving national attention as she is one of three finalists for the National Middle School Teacher of the Year.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals recognizes a middle school and high school principal each year with this honor. This is the first time that a Georgia middle school principal has been named as one of the finalist.
“When they called me Monday I was shocked,” Dean said, Wednesday afternoon. “It may sound childish but the first thing I thought of what that my momma is going to be so proud of me.”
Dean said she is honored with being named a finalist and that is well deserved attention to the school system, community and ULMS.
“I know that I work hard, but I also know that we've moved this school together,” Dean said. “It takes more than one person. This is recognition for the entire school, system and community. I couldn't be here if it wasn't for all of us here.”
When Dean received the Georgia Middle School Principal of the Year it allowed her name to be considered for the national award. There were 100 finalist to choose from; 50 from middle schools and 50 from high schools. Out of the 50 middle schools Dean is among the top three.
To program, sponsored by MetLife, is designed to honor secondary school principals who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of collaborative leadership; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and personalization.
The same criteria are outlined in Breaking Ranks in the Middle: Strategies for Leading Middle Level Reform, a book which Dean wrote a chapter discussing her thoughts on middle school education.
A letter of recommendation was sent in by former Superintendent Dr. Howard Hendley, Upson-Lee High School Principal Cleve Hendrix, Frank King as a community representative and Anne McDaniel who works with Dean.
“The application process included letters of recommendation and answering a series of questions,” Dean said. “In August I will travel to Washington , D.C. to be interviewed. I believe there will be a 10 minute presentation and a one hour interview.
“I'm excited," she said with a gleam in her eyes and a wide smile. "I love an interview process so I'm not nervous.”
As for the waiting, that's a different story. They will announce the winner in September and Dean can't help but think "what if."
“To be nominated is of course an honor, but to win? That would be something I would really be something,” she said. “Past winners of this award really do have a strong voice when it comes to decisions involving education. It would be wonderful to play that kind of role.”
Dean has already played a strong role at the local level. When she took over the school in 1997 she was the fourth principal in four years. This is the start of her 12 th year as principal and is still looking at ways to improve.
“I love what I do,” she said. “This job is a challenge, but it is great to see what we can accomplish when we all work together.”
The banner outside the school welcomes students back for the best year ever. Dean said that is what she and the rest of her staff hope to provide each year.
“Awards or not, it's the students that matter,” Dean said. “All the recognition we have received has been wonderful, but our focus is always on the students. We are looking forward to another great year here at ULMS.”
Another year has already started as students returned yesterday and perhaps another great achievement is just a month away for Dean and her school. For now that thought is in the back of Dean's mind as she returns to answering calls, meeting with teachers and trying to ensure her school continues to grow.