Education in Action: New principal says Ramey 'the right place for me'

Published on Monday, 2 September 2013 17:58 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA

At one time in Michelle Jarnagin’s life, she made a lot of money but felt like she was making little difference in the world. So, she asked herself, “What is the thing you get the most joy from?” The answer to that question — education — led her to become a teacher.

Now, she finds herself as principal of Ramey Elementary School, a position that she already is enjoying.

“It has been like Christmas morning,” Ms. Jarnagin said describing the excitement she has felt welcoming the teachers then students to the campus.

Ms. Jarnagin moved to Tyler from Ector County ISD in Odessa where she was an assistant principal.

In her first experience as principal, Ms. Jarnagin said she is excited about the opportunity to affect students.

“At every level, the thing that’s been the most interesting is that I’ve been able to have more of an impact on students,” she said.

Born in New Haven, Conn., Ms. Jarnigan is the oldest of two siblings. Her mother worked as an educator during her childhood and her father worked for Union Carbide, a chemical and polymers company.

Family conversations revolved around politics and education at the dinner table and she said her mother was no-nonsense when it came to education, requiring her daughters to do their homework before they could do anything else.

When Ms. Jarnagin was in the sixth grade, her family moved to St. Augustine, Fla., where her mother’s family was from. There, she graduated from high school and attended Florida State University, double-majoring in psychology and economics.

After graduation, she moved to Italy to work with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society as a budget counselor for three years.

Upon returning to the United States, she worked in sales, ultimately getting recruited to work in Odessa 14 years ago.

Along the way she earned master’s degrees in psychology and educational leadership.

While in Odessa, she transitioned to a career in education and ultimately moved up the ladder to become an administrator.

“It’s nice to feel like you’re operating in your gifts,” said Ms. Jarnagin, who is in the last stages of earning a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio. “It just is the right place for me. It took me some years to find it, but now I’m here.”

She said the focus for Ramey faculty and staff this year will be improving the academic vocabulary of the students. They want students to learn 150 academic words at each grade level.

“We don’t want them to just know words,” she said. “We want them to really have a functioning understanding of the words in all of their core subjects.”

This will help them communicate at higher levels and better process material so they can be more successful.

More than 95 percent of Ramey students are identified as economically disadvantaged, a reality that Ms. Jarnagin said she views as one of the opportunities in the school.

“I believe that those students bring with them a tool box of resiliency and persistence that sometimes you might not see when more opportunities are provided,” she said.

Ms. Jarnagin refers to her campus as “the most fantastic Ramey Elementary School” and believes that to be the truth about its students and faculty.

“I think the greatest strength that Ramey has to offer is the people,” she said. “I tend to get a little bit overcome with how wonderful everybody’s been through this transition. They have been above and beyond. These are the kind of educators who go that extra mile as the norm, and I don’t think people realize how hard they work. I literally have to kick them out of the building at the end of the day.”

One of the first questions the teachers asked her when she arrived was if they could help students after school if they noticed academic gaps. She told them it wasn’t that time of the year yet and the district wouldn’t be able to pay them for that. But the teachers didn’t care.

“I just want to make sure my kids get where they need to be,” was their response, she said. “And that’s, you know, you can’t bottle that. I could not ask for a better group of people to serve with.”