For 22 years, this time of year has always proven to be an exciting one for Dr. Shawne Holder. With summer break over, she has already joined the droves of teachers and administrators flocking back to their classrooms as a new school year opens.
But despite having gone through the back-to-school madness for 22 years, this year’s back-to-school season has taken on more excitement than usual, as she begins her first year as principal at the newly named Lakeview Academy.
A native of Newton County, Holder said teaching was always something that appealed to her.
“I always knew I wanted to work with children and I’ve always loved helping children learn,” said Holder. “Once I sat down with my parents and really talked about what I wanted to do, I decided teaching was the way I wanted to go.”
Holder attended the University of Georgia, where she studied psychology. But after graduating Holder realized a career in psychology was not what she wanted to do, so she went back to school and obtained a master’s degree in early childhood education. Later she obtained her Ph.D from Mercer University.
“My mother has always been very supportive and encouraging as I’ve gone back to school and pursued higher degrees,” said Holder. “I also have a very close friend that’s a former principal who has been a mentor to me, and my husband has been very supportive also. He actually drove me back and forth to Mercer at night when I was getting my Ph.D, and he’s probably my biggest cheerleader along with my parents.”
Since graduating, Holder taught in a couple of school systems in nearby areas, but the bulk of her time has been spent helping students, or babies as she likes to call them, in the Jasper County School System.
“I started working in Newton County and taught third grade, and I moved to Jasper County and started there as the media specialist at Washington Park Elementary School,” said Holder. “Then I became assistant principal and then principal there, and after 18 years in the same place, I wanted to branch out and try something new.”
Since making the decision to move to Baldwin County, Holder said the main thing that lured her to the job were the various changes and transitions going on in the Baldwin County School System.
“I wanted to be a part of that and help with all the relationship and community building that’s going to be so important as we move into these new roles as schools,” said Holder.
“I’m looking forward to working with the community, the parents and the babies.”
Holder said she has seen an outpouring of support from her fellow administrators in the school system.
“The reception from everyone has been fabulous. I remember calling my mom on my way home from the first day of the leadership retreat and telling her that I feel like I’m a part of a family,” said Holder. “Baldwin County is a bigger system than where I came from, but there have been instant connections and everybody has been so willing to help.”
Along with support from inside the school system, Holder also said she has seen great support from the community as well with several residents offering her a warm welcome to Baldwin County.
“I was in one of the stores at the mall and I met a couple who were so sweet and helpful,” said Holder. “I think of Milledgeville as being a big town, but it’s really got a small-town feel.”
With this outpouring of support from the community and educators alike, Holder said she is ready to begin helping her school go through this transitional period.
“As we transition it’s going to be important to create the image we want Lakeview Academy to have in the community and with our stakeholders,” said Holder. “One of the things I want to do is make it more inviting when you walk in. We want to create the same family feeling that I’ve gotten from the central office and other principals, and I want that same culture and climate here in the building.”
Along with striving to overhaul Lakeview Academy’s image, Holder said she also hopes to see her students grow and succeed in the classroom in her first year.
“Student achievement is paramount to education. We’ve got to catch children up that need those gaps filled and also extend learning for those that need that extension. I’m very data-driven, and I want to see all the students show an appropriate amount of growth and move beyond the goal set for them,” said Holder. “I love for students to set their own goals for their learning because I think when they take ownership it’s so much more powerful than us just telling them what they have to do.”
But even though academic achievement and data are important to her, Holder said that knowing the students who walk the hallways every day is a top priority for her and the staff at Lakeview Academy for the upcoming school year.
“I want the students to be successful. Our goal is to increase the CCRPI and the Milestones test data, while at the same time getting to know the children in this building individually because a number is just a number, but you’ve got to know the children,” said Holder. “I had a very wise person ask me one time, ‘You can talk to me about data, but do you know my child,’ and I think that’s always important to come back to.”
As an educator, Holder said she has always been passionate about children who grow up in poverty, as she saw her father work hard to provide for his family when she was younger.
“My father had a ninth grade education, but he always told me I would graduate from high school and go to college or a trade school,” said Holder. “It was really inspiring knowing how hard he worked to provide things for us that he didn’t have when he was growing up. He also made sure we had a stronger foundation with education than he was allowed.”
At Baldwin County Holder hopes to invest in the students in the classroom as well as outside of it by hopefully getting students involved in one of her favorite hobbies—gardening.
“I love gardening and getting in the yard and playing in dirt. One of the things I would like to do here is have a Junior Master Gardeners club,” said Holder. “We started one at my previous school, and getting those children inspired to do that was really awesome.”
Aside from gardening, Holder said she also enjoys reading and spending time with family in her time away from school.
But for now with the start of school already upon her, Holder’s main focus is on reforming Lakeview Academy’s image and helping its students begin progressing and reaching their goals.
“The biggest goal for this year is for people to understand that Lakeview is a wonderful place to be, a place where the teachers are dedicated and hardworking and are going to create a loving environment for the students and provide them the best education possible.”
And since taking over as the principal, Holder has praised her staff’s effort and dedication, as she said they have worked tirelessly doing little things like decorating classroom doors and bulletin boards to help her achieve this goal.
“Since I’ve gotten here, the staff has been great and enthusiastic,” said Holder. “They’ve worked for the past month to create an environment that is inviting and welcoming for students.”
Because of the outpouring of help and support Holder has seen from her staff members and others in the school system and the community, she said her transition to Lakeview Academy and her first day of school have been made much easier and enjoyable.
“This staff has been amazing, and they’ve really rolled up their sleeves and jumped right in to help be sure all the students are in the right classrooms today. I've really enjoyed meeting everybody, and I can honestly say I really feel like I’m home.”