Principal Dayna Coleman walked down the halls of Woodrow Cummins Elementary mid-morning Tuesday and smiled at teachers who worked to put together classrooms before classes begin Aug. 20. Hundreds of children — more than 500 — are expected to flood the halls.
Coleman pointed to books going on bookshelves in the school library — her favorite spot at the school — and decorations going on hall walls.
"I have to make little people decisions," Coleman said. "We have a real obligation to give [children] a love of learning."
Across town, on Thursday, principal Bobby Walker was organizing Marguerite Vann Elementary School amid the bustle of new paint and decor going up. Kindergarten camp, meant to acclimate children to school, was underway, and children’s voices echoed in the halls.
"It’s all about academic achievement," Walker said. "It’s not about passing a test, it’s about taking kids from ‘A’ to ‘B.’ We have to look at the whole child. Every child learns differently."
Walker and Coleman are both new principals starting in the Conway Public Schools. Their move into top administrative positions coincides with major changes in the school district. The district is rezoning and reconfiguring what grades go to which schools this year. One elementary school closed, a new one opened and construction continues at Conway High School West, which officials said will be ready to open to student Aug. 20.
Walker said Conway Public Schools has a great reputation academically — one reason he wanted to work for the district.
Both Walker and Coleman are interested in getting children to want to learn and to learn more at their new schools.
In his office Thursday, Walker described teaching techniques that included breaking into smaller groups, individualized learning and letting students learn by doing. For example, a group could work together on a puzzle, he said.
While looking around the library Tuesday, Coleman said she wanted to see children have more hands-on learning with technology, such as iPads or laptops. She wants to pursue grants to put technology in classrooms, she said.
"I just want things in the children’s hands that are educational," she said.
Walker, who left Memphis, Tenn., for Conway, is a Navy veteran who believes his military skills help him as a teacher and principal. He drives his F-150 truck 45 minutes to work, drinks his coffee on the go and makes lists to organize his day.
Coleman is a mother of two who believes becoming a mom helped her become a better teacher and administrator. On Tuesday, she bought donuts for her staff and praised her teachers and custodians. She said is interested in getting children to care about education and to think it’s fun, but she is also a disciplinarian.
"A big part of my job is discipline," Coleman said. "My hope is something I would do will have an impact, and I won’t have repeat offenders."
Coleman is there when the busses roll up in the mornings and in the cafeteria when the children have lunch.
Walker was offered his principal job in early June. Coleman was offered the job in early July. Both were introduced to the school board during the July meeting.
"We are certainly delighted to have Mr. Walker and Mrs. Coleman," superintendent Greg Murry said.
Despite different approaches, Coleman and Walker have the same goal — academic achievement, Murry said. Both want students to learn at the highest level possible, and they have the experience and education to make a difference, he said.
Coleman was assistant principal at Woodrow Cummins and Jim Stone elementary schools for two-plus years, taught 17 years, earned her master’s degree and is in a doctoral program at the University of Arkansas. Walker was principal in Memphis City Schools for six years, earned a master’s degree and participated in a program that trained teachers who wanted to improve urban schoolchildren’s lives and improve their learning.
"We are certainly not looking for a cookie-cutter principal for our district," Murry said.