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Butler High School's new principal plans to move school forward

Sunday, July 27, 2014 10:15 PM
Last updated Monday, July 28, 2014 6:29 PM
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Three weeks before she officially began as the principal of Butler High School, Stacey Mabray called all faculty and staff to the school June 10 for a two-day retreat.

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Colby Harris, a 2004 graduate of Butler High School, talks with incoming freshmen during a new orientation program.  TODD BENNETT/STAFF
TODD BENNETT/STAFF
Colby Harris, a 2004 graduate of Butler High School, talks with incoming freshmen during a new orientation program.

Mabray, however, insisted on calling the event a “forward,” because “Butler Bulldogs never retreat,” she said. It was her first gesture showing she was serious about changing the tone of the school.

The theme of the gathering was “perception is reality,” and Mabray wanted to find out how Butler was perceived by its teachers, students and the public.

The feedback wasn’t great.

Many teachers felt unsupported and frustrated. Butler had just completed three years of state intervention for its Race to the Top grant, which funded technology, training, consultants and other reforms, and some were wondering what they had to show for it.

In 2013, Butler’s graduation rate dropped to 38 percent; less than 50 percent of students made passing grades in seven of nine End-of-Course Test subjects. A third of students were chronically absent.

More discouraging than even the test scores was a sense that Butler lacked a fluid connection between students, teachers and the administration to work as one supportive family, said Natalia Thrash, a chemistry teacher with 13 years at the school.

“The morale the past few years has just been nonexistent,” Thrash said Thursday. “Ninety percent of our kids are very willing, bright, capable young people, but when you’re in an atmosphere where discipline is nonexistent and there’s no support from above, teaching can’t happen. It’s discouraging.”

As she made clear to her staff at their summer meeting, Mabray’s strategy to reform Butler High School is to target culture first. She said her goal is to create an atmosphere where teachers feel supported, policies are enforced and students feel at home.

After that, she said, achievement will follow.

“I’m a real big fan of student voice – what are the kids saying?” Mabray said. “I’m a real big fan of teacher voice. What are the teachers saying? It’s your school, you’re in the classroom, you’re experiencing this, tell me what to do. That’s how we can change things.”

Mabray comes to Butler with administrative and classroom experience which she said gives her a unique perspective on how schools should operate. After earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1992, Mabray decided to switch paths to teaching, which was her real passion in life.

She taught science at Butler from 1993 to 2003, then worked as the Richmond County science coordinator and most recently led the district’s curriculum department.

She was named Butler principal in April, when Superintendent Frank Rob­er­son shifted the leadership at several schools in the county that were struggling with achievement.

Butler’s former principal of six years, Greg Thompson, was transferred to head the alternative program.

One of Mabray’s first initiatives to raise achievement began last week when she launched Butler University, a two-day freshman orientation where incoming ninth-graders toured the school, learned which courses they must complete to graduate and how to manage social media, friends and growing up.

“That transition from eighth grade to ninth grade is probably one of the most crucial,” Mabray said. “That sense of freedom sometimes can be daunting to kids. There are some who get lost in it all. And just adolescents, going from 14 to 18 is just difficult, so we’re trying to set them up to be successful.”

When the school year begins, Mabray will implement a classic homeroom system, which has not been in place for several years. Students will remain for four years with the same homeroom teacher, who will be responsible for learning students’ needs, making sure they stay on pace for graduation and getting to know about any personal problems that might keep them from getting to school at all.

“We’ve got one person who is personally looking after 25 individuals for four years,” Mabray said. “The idea is this teacher is an academic teacher, but it has nothing to do with academics. It has to do with socialization and staying focused.”

Butler’s incoming intervention specialist, Sharon Dukes, will also be tasked with keeping students on track to graduate, developing clubs and activities, helping students fill out college applications and financial aid forms and making sure they have a plan for after high school.

Dukes previously worked as the graduation coach at Cross Creek High School, where the graduation rate climbed from 64 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013, the highest in the district excluding the magnet schools.

“It’s really about trying to motivate students to do their best,” Dukes said. “It’s about structured student involvement. It’s about extra curriculars so they feel a part of the school and want to be here.”

Mabray said bringing a sense of pride will also be important to raising achievement. She is planning to launch the Butler Legacy Series next year, in which alumni return to talk to students about what they accomplished after graduating from Butler and how it’s possible to leave Augusta and succeed.

This also involves strengthening ties to the community by bringing local businesses into the school to expose students to different careers. It means having south Augusta businesses come in to teach students about what to wear to a job interview and how to land internships.

Parent Facilitator Inga Coleman said community support has an astonishing ability to boost the mood of a school and energize students. She said in the past it has been difficult to recruit businesses to attend events or do outreach at Butler.

And students take notice.

“Last year I approached students and said ‘OK, what do you think would really make Butler pop?’ and what they really came back with was ‘Well, nobody cares about us, they leave and don’t come back, people who graduate, we don’t see them.’ That’s what they really want.”

Mabray said the post-high school component will be another priority of her administration. She said college is not a good fit for every student, but every student should leave Butler with a plan.

Because what’s more urgent than the test scores is the amount of access schools are giving to their students, she said.

“Part of it is not only pushing them out into the world but bringing the world inside,” Mabray said. “We have our valedictorian from five years ago who went to South Carolina State (University) and is now studying for her Ph.D. and has a full fellowship. Kids don’t see that. Kids don’t see what Ph.D. means. Those are the kinds of people who have to come back and share their experience with our kids … It’s about getting kids to see you can get there from here.”

Comments (26) Add comment
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willie7
1047
Points
willie7 07/27/14 - 10:17 pm
0
0
Wish you well Stacey!!!
Unpublished

Wish you well Stacey!!!

Pops
14051
Points
Pops 07/27/14 - 10:27 pm
10
0
I wish her luck.

She's gonna need a lot of it.

Ms. Mabray sounds energetic and wants these kids to do well..........

redapples
681
Points
redapples 07/27/14 - 10:35 pm
9
0
I love the enthusiasm of this

I love the enthusiasm of this administrator and I wish them the best as they start this year!

nocnoc
49121
Points
nocnoc 07/28/14 - 04:19 am
8
0
I also love the enthusiasm of this administrator

Now lets see what RCBOE will allow in the form of creativity.

Riverman1
93229
Points
Riverman1 07/28/14 - 04:41 am
8
0
Sounds fantastic

Sounds fantastic. One small nitpick is I would tell Mr. Harris not to wear his cap inside when teaching kids.

seenitB4
96821
Points
seenitB4 07/28/14 - 05:18 am
6
2
I wish them luck

Great ideas & I hope they work..

Another idea is to visit the home & find out what the student is dealing with day in & day out.

Almost every week I read in the AJC how another school official will change the flow of drop outs....each & everyone wants the best for the students...I believe they truly want them to prosper.

But, the foundation is crumbling, the family is broken & most won't talk about the true condition of some minority groups...or, very poor groups of any kind. That part of a child's life will have to be rebuilt. The father needs to be in their life, until that happens, we will continue to see what we see today.

avidreader
3558
Points
avidreader 07/28/14 - 05:31 am
7
0
Fair and Consistent Discipline!

Here lies the problem. The touchy-feel-good stuff is nice, but if the administration does not FULLY support the teachers, then matters at Butler will not change. I'm hoping Ms. Mabray has the fortitude to deal with all the discipline problems. She's a strong-willed woman, but the politics in the school system can stifle the best of us.

Good luck Ms. Mabray; I'll be rooting for you.

maandpa
471
Points
maandpa 07/28/14 - 05:51 am
10
0
Stay Strong

Ms. Mabray is approaching her new task with great enthusiasm, and hopefully as the year continues, she can stay strong, positive, and as enthusiastic as today.

The real problem is not at Butler but begins at home, and parents are the ones that need the two day retreat the most.

to tell the truth1
210
Points
to tell the truth1 07/28/14 - 06:58 am
5
0
Accountability

With a full time counselor and a parent facilitator at the school, why isn't someone held accountable for all this short coming? It's obvious that the parents of these students are not taking an active part in the successful education of their children. This is not a problem at Butler alone but is more serious there. I just learned something new. Who eliminated the homeroom concept? Was this eliminated in all the schools? Wrong move. It's obvious that whoever is running or changes things at the Central Office don't know what they are doing.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/28/14 - 07:00 am
8
0
I'm sure that Countyman will

I'm sure that Countyman will now come on here and tell us what great schools Augusta has.

Dropping out of school doesn't start in high school; it starts in 4th grade. It is now known that if a child isn't reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, their chance of ever catching up goes to near zero.

Stop the social promotions in K-3 and you would see a lot of improvement. Parents act like retention is the end of the world; it's not.

A 38% graduation rate is atrocious. But now Augusta can say it has 4 failing high schools- Laney, Josey, Glenn Hills, and now Butler.

In my day, homeroom teachers led the Pledge, took attendance, and read the announcements. They weren't required to chase after kids and pry into their personal lives.

Little Lamb
48822
Points
Little Lamb 07/28/14 - 07:02 am
3
0
Discipline

I know you have to be progressive in your discipline. But once you've marched a student up the discipline chain, then you've got to be strong enough to use the final step, i.e., expulsion, when the student crosses over the line one too many times.

If you expel the students who meet the criteria for expulsion, watch your graduation rate go up.

shamrock
585
Points
shamrock 07/28/14 - 08:51 am
2
0
A Former Graduate

As a former graduate of BHS (1968) I'm so glad to see someone is willing to step up and bring the pride back that Butler once had!! Best of luck to Ms. Mabry ... sounds like she has more to offer than just lip servuice.

AFjoe
5328
Points
AFjoe 07/28/14 - 10:42 am
1
1
Good Luck...

Over the years I have read, heard, listen too new leaders come in with the great society plan. The culture at Butler will not change, Butler is nothing but a building. Almost every post hits the nail on the head. It is a reflection of our society.

jimmymac
47303
Points
jimmymac 07/28/14 - 10:43 am
1
0
EXPULSION
Unpublished

There are certain events that when they occur in a school should merit immediate expulsion. Hitting a teacher is one and assaulting another student should be another. No teacher can educate in an environment where violence is tolerated. No student will learn if he/she feels threatened. Throw the trouble makers out because all they're doing is denying decent kids a chance for a quality education. Likely or not the trouble makers wouldn't have graduated in the first place. If momma or daddy complain then let them home school their little darlings.

AFjoe
5328
Points
AFjoe 07/28/14 - 10:46 am
2
1
Dress for _________

Mr Harris could have made a real impression if he had on a shirt & tie.
I'm not impressed with his "style".
To bad he missed the mark.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 07/28/14 - 10:47 am
2
1
No child left behind

Should be left behind. Having the expulsion and suspension numbers added to the absentee count is just downright stupid. Allowing students to handcuff local administrators with this practice just shows that politicians haven't a clue about everyday life and the problems common people face.

Riverman1
93229
Points
Riverman1 07/28/14 - 12:09 pm
2
0
On The Right Track

Shamrock, as with so many of out former schools and neighborhoods, it's a whole new game now. But it does seem the new principal is on the right track.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/28/14 - 01:37 pm
2
0
When a child is suspended,

When a child is suspended, they are still enrolled and they are absent.

When a child is expelled, when they are withdrawn from school, their absence is no longer counted, nor are they missed. Because when they are expelled, they are no longer enrolled.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/28/14 - 03:01 pm
0
2
AFjoe, yeah, maybe, but on

AFjoe, yeah, maybe, but on the other hand, if he dresses casually, the kids can relate to him better and will be more willing to listen.

Adults would relate better, but kids- not so much.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/28/14 - 03:06 pm
0
3
And I'm not sure, but I think

And I'm not sure, but I think maybe Mr. Harris was wearing a hat that had his company logo on it.

I think it's more important that he came and talked to the kids, rather than his wearing a tie. For some of those kids, to have a conversation with someone that isn't a gangbanger, drug dealer, or exconvict is sadly, not the norm.

jimmymac
47303
Points
jimmymac 07/28/14 - 04:27 pm
0
0
CORGI
Unpublished

I respectfully disagree with your statement on dress. If a teacher wants respect they should look like a professional not like they are getting ready to go to a ballgame. Teachers deserve respect but they should look like the role model they're supposed to be. It wasn't that long ago that teachers wore a coat and tie for men and a dress for women. I'm not say they need to go that far but at least make yourself look like one of the staff not one of the students.

ldegutes1
133
Points
ldegutes1 07/28/14 - 06:14 pm
2
0
Good High School

Butler High School, at one time was one of the best HS's in the county. I think that this administrator is going to need the support of the families, teachers, and the community support to accomplish anything at Butler. First, a little old fashion discipline in the school would help. Trying to get students ready for the workplace and college would be an interesting attribute in HS for a change. I still find that dressing properly instills pride in students. Get the thugs out of school, and tell the kids to pull their pants up and wear a belt. Teachers need to be both role models, and set examples for the students. I'm a little tired of the schools trying to parent our children. The parents need to parent children, and work with the schools, not defer being a parent to the schools. Now for my biggest pet peeve outside of teaching students basic concepts. The parents and the teachers need to expect manners be used, or else. Gangbangers, thugs, drug dealers, have no place in school. Parents and schools need to stop making excuses for the little darlings, they are thugs, bullies, and make it impossible to learn or teach. For goodness sake's take hats off indoors, as men have been doing for generations, to show respect for others.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 07/29/14 - 08:11 am
0
0
Semantics corgi

They are not absent as in being sick and lots of kids are subjected to their disruptions because of NCLB. They should not affect the attendance of the school and should be categorized as disciplinary. But no, let's punish everyone instead of addressing the problem. That's the New Democratic way.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 07/29/14 - 08:11 am
0
0
Semantics corgi

They are not absent as in being sick and lots of kids are subjected to their disruptions because of NCLB. They should not affect the attendance of the school and should be categorized as disciplinary. But no, let's punish everyone instead of addressing the problem. That's the New Democratic way.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/29/14 - 09:40 am
0
0
No, GnipGnop, that's state

No, GnipGnop, that's state law. It has nothing to do with Democrats or NCLB.

Every enrolled student must be accounted for, every day. They are either present or absent.

It's because state funding, and many Federal programs, are based on enrollment. Enrollment also affects things like sports team classifications. Accounting for every student is essential.

It keeps schools honest.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/29/14 - 09:41 am
0
0
What people really need to be

What people really need to be concerned about is that even with Race to the Top funds, the graduation rate was only 38%.

The RCBOE is failing the students of Richmond County. Leadership starts from the top, and the RCBOE needs to get very, very tough.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 07/29/14 - 09:43 am
0
0
Students aren't supposed to

Students aren't supposed to "feel at home" in a school. They are there to learn, not to feel "comfortable".

Reverie
54
Points
Reverie 07/29/14 - 12:57 pm
0
0
College is not a good fit for every student

I'm shocked! Did an educator actually say that? That is not progressive. Finally, someone stated the truth. Why are we not increasing our vocational (CTAE) programs in middle and high school to get these kids ready for a tradecraft? Give them some variety and options. We need to prepare these kids not just to go to college, but also go to a tradeschool, military, and/or immediately join the workforce. Everyone is different, everyone has to find their way, but we all need to have a goal.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 08/01/14 - 12:49 pm
0
0
lol do you really think....

anything keeps schools honest? How many times have we heard about kids that are sports stars that can't read and write? I remember a Laney football star that was allowed to play on the team after he had been arrested for armed robbery. Absentees and disciplinary suspensions are two totally different things. I don't care if it's state law. federal law or a king's law. Punishing kids that want to learn by allowing unruly kids to disrupt class is stupid. Anyone that agrees with a rule that allows that to happen is a part of the problem.

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