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A model for the state
Educators laud Somerville Road leadership program
By Deangelo McDaniel
The Decatur Daily

Gary Cosby Jr./The Decatur Daily
Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Somerville Road Elementary hosts educators from across the state for a leadership program and tour Thursday, February 7, 2013. Renee Phelps makes a funny face while she talks to one of the students in the library.

Tears flowed uncontrollably down teacher Melissa Wiley’s face.

“Look at them,” she said, pointing to the stage at Somerville Road Elementary School.

“I am so proud of these kids,” she said loudly. “They may come from poverty, but they are not poverty. These kids will be successful.”

Wiley’s passionate speech came Thursday morning as almost 100 educators from across the state came to see the school’s Leadership Day program.

In May 2011, Somerville Road became the first Title I school in the nation to gain Leader in Me Lighthouse status.

Since then, other systems have steadily sent representatives to see how a school with a 96.8 percent poverty rate makes adequately yearly progress, Principal Teddi Jackson said.

“I am proud of what our teachers and students do here, and we are glad to show it off,” she said.

The group that came Thursday was part of an Athens State University leadership symposium that includes schools trying to gain or retain Lighthouse status.

“This is absolutely amazing,” said Renee Phelps, a fifth-grade teacher from Summerdale Elementary School in Baldwin County.

She was one of 14 educators from her school to make the more than 250-mile journey to Decatur. Phelps smiled and applauded during the entire student performance “because these kids remind me so much of the students at our school.”

Demographics at Somerville Road and Summerdale are about the same, she said.

“This school is to be commended,” Phelps said. “And after watching their students, I am inspired.”

Wiley wasn’t the only teacher crying, as students — with the “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by author Stephen R. Covey as a backdrop — gave testimonials.

Habit No. 1: “Be proactive,” was student Vianey Dejesus-Castro’s message. She spoke as visitors snapped pictures and recorded her.

She said good study habits and “choosing to do the right thing, even when no one is watching” are part of her proactive platform.

Wiley and several visiting teachers were brought to tears when a special needs student took the stage and talked about Habit No. 7: “Sharpen the Saw.” The habit focuses on self-rejuvenation.

“I don’t see kids who live in poverty,” Wiley said, wiping tears. “I see leaders.”

Several other teachers in the back of the auditorium said, “Wow.”

Schools have been incorporating the seven habits into their curricula with varying degrees of participation.

As a Lighthouse School, Somerville Road meets criteria that designate it as a model school for the Leader in Me program.

Students Chris Sharpley and Tyler Payne, who both participated in a skit, said they were nervous but proud to be school leaders. They also were happy to see so many “new people” on campus.

“It makes me proud because it shows we are doing things the right way and can be leaders,” Sharpley said.

After the assembly, the group toured the school.

“I like what I am seeing,” Phelps said.

Jackson said hosting leadership programs is part of the process for Somerville Road to keep its Lighthouse status.

“We’re proud of where we are, and we’re going to do what we can to stay here,” she said.

Deangelo McDaniel can be reached at 256-340-2469 or

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