“There has never been a time when I have wanted to give up and kept on going. If I get to that point, I will squint my eyes and muscle-up.”
Mrs. Susie Bunch, Superintendent of Lexington City Schools, started her career in education as a Kindergarten teacher at Karns Elementary in Knox County until she was “called ‘home’ to Henderson County to teach Kindergarten. Mrs. Bunch was interviewed for the job in Knox County by Ms. Mildred Doyle.
I was scared to death because I heard she was a tyrant, and I would never pass her “inspection”. We talked for over an hour. She was one of the smartest, strongest, straight-forward women I had ever met, and we took an instant liking to each other. I am so glad that my first formal interview was with Mildred Doyle. I went home to teach Kindergarten for 12 years. I then was Supervisor of Instruction (Supervisor of the Year in 2002-03) in Henderson County, Superintendent in Henderson County (2003-2006), Asst. Commission of Education for Teaching and Learning (2006-2008 when the TN Diploma Project was approved), Program Director for the Mississippi Center for Education Innovation (2008-2011), and then back home to the other end of Monroe Ave as Director of Schools in Lexington City in 2011. This is my 4th year in Lexington City as Director of Schools. The book I am writing is called “On Either End of Monroe”.
Reading was Mrs. Bunch’s favorite subject in school. She expressed her excitement about the new reading standards in TN and the things teachers are learning about teaching reading as well as the use of both fiction and informational texts in their classrooms. “If I were to go back into the classroom, I would want to be a reading teacher today.” While Mrs. Bunch isn’t in the classroom daily anymore, she still reflects on the fond memories that have stayed with her of former students.
I recently had the honor of going to a class reunion . . . the class reunion of my first class of Kindergarten kids in Henderson County. I looked at the kindergarten group picture of all of them and remembered all of their names prior to the reunion. Two of my kids had passed away when they were in their 20’s. The organizer of the reunion passed away unexpectedly only a few weeks before. Most of the kids still lived in Henderson County, and I would see them from time to time at Walmart or Big Star (where everyone sees everybody). All but 5 of the class of 29 who left were going to be in attendance. When I drove up to the home where the picnic was held, someone yelled, “here she is !” They all came down the hill to greet me. I could not identify one of my little boys (actually he is 44 years old) who had black hair with some gray in it because I had not seen him since Kindergarten, and he was a little blue eyed blond then. I said, “Let’s go up the hill to the picnic,” and they all formed a line behind me, not because they thought it would be fun, but because that‘s what they were supposed to do if I was in the lead! That night, the blue-eyed blond turned black-hair with gray in it Kindergarten boy came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “Mrs. Bunch, I have carried you in my heart all my life. You have always been with me.” For someone who taught little ones so very long ago, I have the most wonderful “fan club” any former teacher could ever have, and it has lasted for 39 years. If I did anything right, I taught them to love to learn, and I taught them that I loved them. (and the letter T and the color orange)
It was someone who Mrs. Bunch loved very much that inspired her and helped her begin her own journey toward being a leader – her mother.
My mother inspired me to be a leader. She was a leader in our little community, in our church, in the school, district, and state PTA organizations. She was well-read, well-spoken, and chosen for committees that typically were for “men only”. She was quick-witted and admired by young and old alike. But she did not seek attention or notoriety. I learned through her actions that you had to read, write, study, speak-up, stand for something, and yet still be courteous and respectful. She passed away after my son’s first birthday. She was not alive to see how my career has developed and some of the accomplishments I have had a role in. But she was very proud that I was the first generation college graduate of our family and a teacher. The rest of my story I’d like to think was what she expected me to do anyway.
As Mrs. Bunch continues to lead and grow the students in her school system, she is excited about the things unfolding in Lexington City. She specifically highlighted such things at RTI development, professional growth of the system’s teachers, and the promising aspects of stronger standards in TN.
I am most excited about watching the RTI(2) process unfold and develop in both our elementary and middle school. We worked hard on understanding the components of RTI(2) and building our teams, PLCs, data structures, and communication measures in 2013-14. And I believe that the reason we did well in both achievement and growth in 2013-14 is because we knew where and how all of our students were going and growing. But it’s Showtime this year! We have added personnel to assist in the groupings needed to meet the needs of students and with each new grouping comes a change in scheduling. This is easy for me to talk about because I am not living the scheduling changes like the principals and teachers, but I am proud of how they accept changes for benefit of students.
The professional learning of our teachers and administrators is growing by leaps and bounds. I attribute this to the quality summer training from the department and follow-up to the training by our administrative team in the schools and in the central office through PLCs, grade-level meetings, embedded professional development from our academic coaches and spot-on staff development on the most timely topics that will prepare students and teachers for the spring assessments.
Finally, I hope, the state is nailing down our standards and our assessment. I have been a believer in Common Core even before I came back to TN from Mississippi. Any tweaking the new task force will do in the next year or so will just strengthen an already strong set of standards. That works for me. The new assessment was designed to measure CCSS and also configured to be tweaked along the way if needed. We all are ready to get back to the business of knowing which standards to teach and how they will be measured….no more game playing at the expense of our students and teachers.
Mrs. Bunch shared some advice that might be beneficial to new superintendents, things she has learned through her own experiences as superintendent. “The most important decision you will make as superintendent is who you hire as a principal,” she stated. “Hire great people and let them do their job [s]. Step back and give people credit.” She also shared some things about communication and having a good relationship with the school board. “Keep your board informed. Know what is yours to manage and what the principal should manage. Don’t get the two confused.” Also, “Work the crowd.” She spoke of the importance of taking care of your family and putting them first. Mrs. Bunch also expressed the strength in balancing rest and hard work. “Take a vacation whenever you can. Always have a purpose. Hustle.”
The best and most challenging thing about being CEO of a school district? “Being a superintendent is either very satisfying or very frustrating. I find I try to make every satisfying situation last as long as it can and solve the problem that is causing the frustration as quickly as possible. Sometimes, just pure Facebook gossip/drama is a huge challenge that has no solution at all.”
As Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it is fast approaching, I asked Mrs. Bunch about some of her favorite things connected with “Turkey Day.” She shared that as child her favorite float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was Popeye the Sailor Man. “I still have a thing for squinty-eyed sailors with muscles to this day!” She also mentioned her love for dressing – one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving dinner as well. “My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is chicken and dressing. I ate a ton of it while my Grandmother made it when I was little. Now, I am the champion chicken and dressing maker in both my family and my husband’s family because I know what it’s supposed to taste like before it is cooked.”
As for any new adventures on the horizon, while Mrs. Bunch continues to write new chapters of her life story. “If I could have a new adventure, I would like to be a back-up singer to Tim McGraw. Not that I can sing, but the view would be great.”
Cheers to new adventures, great views, and gratitude as we all approach each day! We don’t have to look to far to find a blessing.
“How blessed am I? Extremely. When I look at the world around me, I should never complain about a thing for the rest of my life. Shame on me if I do.”