While back to school season is a whirlwind for all families with children, it can prove especially eventful for teachers and administrators. However, Courtney Pope is excited to return to Conway's St. Joseph Elementary School, this year in the role of principal. Courtney is married to Brad Pope, who works at Southwestern Energy. Their children include Spencer, a senior; Luke, an eighth grader; and Bailey, a fifth grader - all at St. Joseph Schools, of course. The family also includes beloved cat, Sam. Courtney grew up in Bigelow and graduated from Bigelow High School. She and Brad moved to Conway around 2002. "We always loved Conway and growing up next to it. We love the sense of community, and it offers everything," she says. She attended the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Education, a Masters in Reading, and, in summer 2017, completed Educational Specialist- Leadership Building Level Administration. Courtney has also served on the Graduate School Advisory Board and the Online Learning Advisory Committee for UCA and volunteers at St. Joseph's annual Bazaar.Of earning her leadership degree, Courtney says, "I had an amazing support system while finishing. My family jumped in; my husband Brad cooked, cleaned, picked up kids, and generally picked up slack any way he could over the past two years. My kids were so understanding if I had to miss ballgames or couldn't make something. The administrators and faculty at St. Joseph supported my journey; they were my biggest cheerleaders, editors, and anything else I needed." She also credits the support, prayers, and encouragement of her parents, John and Joann Jordan, for her ability to complete her latest higher education chapter.Prior to becoming principal at St. Joseph, Courtney taught first grade at Mayflower Elementary School, first grade for four years at Ida Burns Elementary School, and first grade for nine years at St. Joseph. This fall marks the start of her tenth year with the school. Courtney always wanted to work in education. "My dad was a public school administrator, and I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I loved every aspect of education: the kids, the parents, teachers, staff, and the community," she says.When asked what she enjoys in her spare time, she says, "Spare time? Ha! I knew this job would be working day and night, but I love every minute. I realize the importance of balance and taking care of yourself. You can't be the best mom, wife, teacher, nurse, etc. if you don't take care of yourself first. Whether that's coffee with friends or a date night with your husband, you gotta do it." In addition, she adds, "The boys both play basketball and have just picked up cross country this year, which we are excited to watch. Spencer also plays soccer. Luke plays baseball. Bailey dances at Irby Dance Studio and has danced in Blackbird Academy's ballet. We love to travel; we went to Mexico in May and had the best time - lots of laughs and priceless memories were made." She also appreciates when her family has the opportunity to sit down for dinner together. When asked about the biggest challenges for today's students, Courtney says, "Technology and social media. Information, both good and bad, is literally a few clicks away. It is part of their culture and what they know; it's here to stay. As families and educators we must embrace it but do so with caution and in protective mode for our children. I think social media can be positive and is a great way for adults to stay connected, but we must model this responsibly and educate our children about its dangers. Social media platforms can be hurtful and harmful, and sometimes we don't prepare our kids emotionally for it.""Another challenge I think kids face is being over-scheduled. We are a busy, busy culture and it's important for kids to have down time and play. Just plain old playing and visiting with friends, but again we've got to make that part of their routine." Among her goals as principal is her desire to lead with an open heart and mind. "I love the thought of helping my teachers and staff be the best they can be. I want to be a servant and leader and would never ask my faculty to do something I wouldn't do myself."Of embarking on the path of school principal, Courtney most looks forward to the people. "The kids, my teachers and their families, and all the richness they will bless me with in the years to come. It's important to understand people and gain trust instead of trying to check things off my checklist. I seek to understand, then be understood. I know building relationships is one of the most important things I can do. If parents, community stakeholders, and teachers trust me, they know I will make decisions in the best interests of the children and their safety. I will always look for ways to better our school and community."Courtney adds, "Kids are just amazing! Their love for knowledge and their search for friendship is precious. I have loved witnessing this throughout my career. St. Joseph has been such a wonderful place to work. We have the opportunity to educate and nurture children in a Christ-focused environment, as He is the reason for this school. It is our goal to lead our students to Christ, college, and careers as productive, faith-filled citizens. When parents choose St. Joseph for their kids, the benefits are truly eternal."Courtney adds, "I have been blessed to acquire some of the most committed, Christian staff ever. It's going to be a great year. People who know me know my passion and how 'real' I am. I'm the first to laugh at myself or say 'I don't know for sure.' That same passion and realness is what they can expect from me as a leader. I'd also like to invite any family that has ever considered St. Joseph School to come check us out and see what we have to offer."