‘We are ECMS’

Publisher’s note: The first few months of each year, the Escambia County Board of Education rotates their meeting place. Thursday afternoon, February 21, the Board met at Escambia County Middle School. Periodically, principals present the Board information about their school. This month, it was ECMS Principal Debbie Bolden’s turn. Following is a portion of the information she shared with the Board.

This evening I am going to take you on a journey highlighting the progress ECMS has made over the last 2 ½ years.
Before I begin, I would like to provide a little background on me.
My entire administrative career has been spent in high poverty, inner city schools. During year 6 out of the 7 years at my last school, I felt I needed a change. My parents were getting up in age, and I felt I needed to get closer to them.
During the time I was in Mobile, my parents and others in this area always talked about the schools and not in a positive light. I would get phone calls from community members telling me when a school was open and they would ask me to apply (not that I would get the position). Each time I was told that the job would be very easy compared to where I was at the time and where I had been. My answer was always no. Those two or three of you who know me, understand that I don’t do easy very well. The only school I was willing to apply for was ECMS. Why? Because of the low test scores, and its reputation. I felt that with the right people on board, we could turn around the school.
Fortunately, I got my opportunity.
We are ECMS
We truly care about our students as people. We build relationships with them
We take care of them, not just by providing pencils, paper, book bags, and other school supplies … we also take care of their basic needs
* Provide deodorant, tooth paste, toothbrushes, soap, etc.
* We provide clothes, underwear, shoes.
* Students bring us their dirty clothes and we wash them so they can come to school in a clean uniform.
* Some take showers here.
* When they come in late and are hungry, we feed them.
* If we see a student has devoured his/her food we provide more.
* We treat them with respect.
* We make them feel safe and secure.
* We greet them as soon as they walk in the door each morning. If we notice a student is upset or angry, we spend time with the student, and often keep that student until he or she is feels ready to go to class.
* We know our students! We know their personalities. We know what pushes their buttons.
* We work with them … when they make a mistake, even big mistakes. We want them to understand that we always want what is best for them. We never want them to feel as if there is no hope.
* We laugh with them and we cry with them, and for them.
* We hug them and we joke around with them.
* We support our students during the school day and after school hours.
* We are emotionally connected to them – we love them.
We want our students to feel good about themselves, regardless of their circumstances. We want them to understand that we believe in them and will do everything we can to help make them successful. We always tell them our goal is for them to be the shining stars wherever they go when they leave ECMS.
I believe we have done a good job with that
Why we have been successful
First and most importantly … This is not about me. ECMS has made incredible progress over the past 2 ½ years. If this school were located in any other county, we would not have grown near as much as we have to date.
1. We have a staff who shares the vision that all students can learn at high levels. They have high expectations and accept no excuses. They work extremely hard and function as grade level and vertical teams.
2. [Here, Bolden refers to Toya McMillian, assistant principal for seventh and eighth grades, and Lotoya Cooper, assistant principal for fourth, fifth, and sixth grades.] Ms. McMillian and Ms. Cooper are outstanding administrators, who share the same vision I have regarding expectations of ourselves as leaders, modeling what we expect, (including outworking everyone) and holding everyone accountable … beginning with us
They do a great job keeping me in line. When something occurs and they know I will react a specific way, they make sure to handle it and I find our much later!
We function and work very well as a team and trust one another. We have each other’s backs. We laugh every day and truly enjoy working together. I completely trust their judgement and do not question any decision they make.
3. [Here, Bolden refers to Beth Drew, Assistant Superintendent; Amy Cabaniss, Secondary Curriculum Supervisor; Sandra Reid, Supervisor of Human Resources; and Sarah Watkins, Supervisor of Federal Programs.]
Ms. Drew, Ms. Cabaniss, Ms. Reid, Ms. Watkins have provided tremendous support over these last 2 ½ years:
From the first day I arrived at ECMS, Ms. Cabaniss and Ms. Drew began providing support. Ms. Cabaniss helped move furniture, clean, and helped me get organized. She continues to assist us by meeting with disruptive students and their parents. She checks on students who are at risk and provides guidance and advice when we are dealing with our most disruptive students. Ms. Cabaniss does everything she can do to make our jobs easier.
Ms. Watkins – 2404 [her extension]. All I have to do is pick up the phone and she says, “Hi, Debbie, what can I do for you today?”
Ms. Reid is constantly offering support with curriculum, PD [professional development] and throughout the year when we always find a way to mess up our grades. Every time I talk to her, Ms. Reid says, “Please let me know what I can do to help you.”
Ms. Drew has been our biggest supporter and advocate. I cannot say enough about all she has done for me from the first day I stepped foot on the ECMS campus. Coming from another county, I had a thousand questions. She would answer my texts even if I texted her at 3:30 in the morning. She met me here on the weekends to help interview candidates. All I have to say to Ms. Drew is “We would like to” or “We need” … and she finds ways to help us. She listens to me vent and offers advice.
They all support my teachers and students. Everyone here feels very comfortable when they are on campus.
The entire ECMS family recognizes what these ladies do for us and appreciate it very much. We would be lost without them.