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Ayers named Lincoln County Schools Principal of the Year

Lincoln County Schools Principal of the Year Dr. Dana Ayers visits with sixth grader Saniya Nixon on Wednesday.

MICHELLE T. BERNARD
Staff Writer

While Lincolnton Middle School principal Dr. Dana Ayers was broadcasting her daily address to the school on Oct. 2, several staff members came into her office saying there was an emergency. After that announcement, superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow, associate superintendents Dr. Aaron Allen and Dr. Rhonda Hager and several other members of Lincoln County Schools administration along with Ayers’ husband, Phillip, and son, Truman, came into her office.

The “emergency” was that Ayers had been named Lincoln County Schools 2017 Principal of the Year, which is an award bestowed upon her by her peers.

“Dr. Ayers is an outstanding leader,” Morrow said. “She’s creative, innovative and looks for ways to continuously improve Lincolnton Middle School. She’s well respected by her staff, parents and the community. Under her leadership the school has exceeded growth for the last three years, meaning all students are learning and growing.”

Ayers has been with Lincoln County Schools for 19 years. She started teaching fourth grade at Battleground Elementary in 1999 and spent six years there teaching different grades. She then taught sixth grade math and science at Lincolnton Middle School for five years. She then served as assistant principal at West Lincoln Middle for four years and has been principal at Lincolnton Middle since 2014.

“I always tell folks Lincolnton Middle is not new to me, it’s just a new chair I’m sitting in,” she said.

While she misses teaching, as principal she is able to walk into a classroom at any time during the day.

“I just dive in and listen but I’ve been known to get up and teach a few things too,” she said. “As a teacher though, you’re stuck in your classroom and don’t have the opportunity to see other grade levels and all the wonderful things that they’re doing.”

Ayers is very high energy and she travels around the school so fast that Lincolnton Middle School assistant principal Traci Melton said that she often can’t keep up with her.

“I’ve never met an individual like Dr. Ayers,” Melton said. “She always has the students’ best interests at heart. Whatever decision she makes – it doesn’t matter if it’s to buy a stamp – she’s making decisions for these students. She thinks of that first and foremost before anything she does. I’ve never worked for a leader like that.”

Ayers attributes her energy to her love of the children. Given that she’s been with school systems for so many years she’s seen a lot of changes both in the school system and in education in general. One of the burdens she said she faces is access to modern technology like cell phones.

“It opens up a world to them that maybe they shouldn’t be exposed to at the middle school level,” she said. “It can be a learning tool, however, it can also be quite a burden. I have my own stance on cell phones but the county has a policy to bring your own device and I adhere to that but I feel like they’re an obstacle to education.”

Lincolnton Middle School currently has a fair amount of technology available to the students, according to Ayers. She believes like they must prepare the students to be 21st century learners, which includes much more than technology. It keeps educators on their toes to keep up with the students, who are often more tech-savvy.

“We, as adults, must hold on because they know so much more,” she said. “It’s a challenge, a curse and a burden but it’s an opportunity for them to learn so many different things.”

Lincolnton Middle School received a grade of a C based on the State Board of Education 2016-2017 READY Accountability data but they have the highest growth proficiency out of all 24 Lincoln County Schools, according to Ayers. While she would like to bring that grade up to a B next year, she feels that how the schools are graded is unfair.

“It’s based 80 percent on student proficiency and only 20 percent on growth,” she said. “I’m not sure that grade is honestly a fair representation of our school because we’ve historically had such high growth.”

Growth is calculated on how far the students excel past their expected performance on a test.

Lincolnton Middle also receives the most Title I funds of any other school in the district and about 75 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch. There are currently approximately 640 students attending the school, which is an increase from last year when there were fewer than 600 students.

“We need those funds to help level the playing field for any students that need additional resources,” Ayers said.

Currently working toward raising $30,000 to build a playground for the exceptional children attending the school, Ayers is always looking for ways to make the students’ experience while at school more rewarding and educational. All of the “separate setting students,” meaning the moderate and severe population of middle school exceptional children in Lincoln County, attend Lincolnton Middle.

“We like having them here, they’re just one of us,” she said. “It’s important for us to make sure that they have everything that they need and sometimes that’s hard but we’re working on it. It also helps the other children learn tolerance but you’d be surprised at what the regular students learn from the EC ones. It’s more than just tolerance but compassion, love and commitment to them.”

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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