CABOT Cabot Middle School North Principal Dawn Peeples couldn’t have received an honor that meant any more to her.
The Charles A. Green Administrator That Makes a Difference award she received in October sums up her career goal.
“This award means that my love, passion and work in midlevel education is making a difference,” she said.
The honor was presented to her Oct. 31 in Hot Springs during the Arkansas Association of Middle Level Professionals fall conference.
Peeples, a Jacksonville native, said the award was made more special because she met Green when she was a student leader at North Pulaski High School.
“He was a principal and started working at the state level,” she said.
Green, who lives in the Marche community, is a retired teacher, principal and director of secondary education in the Pulaski County School District. He helped form the state middle-level association in 1988 and is serving for a second time as its executive director.
“When I retired the first time [as executive director] in 2013, the organization thought enough of me and my ability as an administrator to name the award after me,” he said.
He said the applications for the award are sent to Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi, to be judged.
Green wholeheartedly agreed with the judge’s pick of Peeples for the honor.
“She’s one of the best, believe me. If you just go out to her school and observe for about a half day, you would agree with me,” he said. “It’s just the way things are organized, the way the teachers work with kids — it’s the full package; it really is. She’s really a good leader, and she doesn’t try to do it all herself. This is the way I operate as an administrator. You have to have teachers involved in making decisions,” he said, adding that Peeples does that.
Peeples is in her 17th year in education and her fifth year as principal of the north campus.
Teaching was a passion that Peeples didn’t find until later in life, after she’d been a stay-at-home mother for 10 years.
“One day I discovered I was supposed to be a teacher,” she said. “It was when my children were small, like toddlers, and I got real involved in the church working with children, and the light went off.”
She said raising her children was her career, but she realized her children were going to school.
“I decided I wanted to go into education, and I never wavered from that,” she said.
With three kids and “an understanding husband,” Peeples said, she attended Arkansas State University-Beebe to earn her education degree and ASU-Jonesboro for her master’s degree.
Peeples landed a job in Cabot at the middle school south campus, happy to have gotten a job amid tough competition.
“I taught science, which was neat, but I’m a math teacher,” she said. “The next year I taught math and just ran with it.
“After five or six years, I decided I wanted to lead; I had some vision and some passion [for administration].”
She was hired as principal of Cabot Middle School North, which has 875 fifth- and sixth-graders. She spent years driving from Jacksonville to Cabot to teach, but she and her husband, Randy, moved to Cabot three years ago. They have three grown daughters and three grandchildren.
Peeples said people often groan when they hear she is at a middle school, but she wouldn’t want to be at any other level, she said. The students range in age from 10 to 12 years old.
“Kids in elementary are little; ones at junior high are big. [Middle-schoolers] still want high fives and hugs. They’re awesome, but they have a lot of challenges,” she said.
“You need more than academics. We also look at what do we need to do emotionally? We’re big in this building on meeting the needs of the whole child,” Peeples said. “If they’re sad or upset, … they can’t learn.
“When we get them, they’re just out of fourth grade. When they leave, they’re headed to junior high. We take interim assessments throughout the year. What is it about elementary that’s so wonderful that we need to move forward?”
Peeples said middle school teachers function like a team and work collaboratively, unlike any other level.
She said one of the unique practices is the middle school teaming concept. Each team is made up of about 90 students and three teachers, who collaborate on every decision, Peeples said.
Although no two teams look alike, the three classes in each team are the same, down to the celebrations they have, “for normalcy and consistency.”
The conference topics in October were all geared toward middle school and no other grades.
“It’s all about understanding that middle-level learner. They’re not little kids, but they’re not grown up, either,” she said. “It’s a lot about child development at this age, using humor in the classroom, using consistency in the classroom. We talked a lot about high-level stakes in education and the importance of taking every learner to high levels.”
Peeples said that is her ultimate goal.
“I tell myself every day, I want to meet every single child where they’re at when they walk in the door and move them forward. I want them to be further down the road when they leave this afternoon,” she said.
The past couple of years, the focus has been on student leadership, Peeples said.
Clubs were implemented last year.
“We have 60 clubs. Every child has to be in a club — they have to be,” she said.
The students choose clubs based on their interests, and they change clubs every six weeks.
“I almost had a heart attack last year when we started it — 900 kids going different directions,” she said, laughing. “Student leadership is more of a junior high focus, but we have Student Council and student leadership, and it’s a big deal. We give them responsibility.
“That’s been a real game-changer. They’re excited on Friday morning.”
Peeples said that every day when she drives to work, she reminds herself that she gets to work at the best school in Arkansas. In the spring, it was named a national school by the National Middle Schools’ Forum and redesignated as an Arkansas Diamond School to Watch.
“The reason this [award] is so wonderful, it’s all about middle school,” she said. “It sort of validates all the years of hard work. You always have opportunities, … but I fell in love with middle school years ago, and I’ve never wanted to do anything different.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.