INDIANAPOLIS — A large banner that memorialized former principal Susan Jordan has come down from the entryway at Amy Beverland Elementary School.
Now, the remembrances are more subtle. A Colts jersey dedicated to Jordan hangs near her former office. A silver star sits above the reception desk that says: “Stars keep on shining.” Below, it reads: “In Memory of Susan Jordan.”
It’s a new year, with students one grade older. And there is a new face in the halls.
Jered Pennington, a 38-year-old educator, is two weeks into the school year as the new principal, The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/2bZCEal).
The former assistant principal in Noblesville Schools is at the helm of a school recovering from the sudden death of Jordan, the longtime principal who was killed in January during dismissal when a school bus jumped the curb.
The death stunned students, staff and parents, who credited Jordan for cultivating a warm atmosphere at the elementary school where hugs in the hallways were a frequent occurrence.
Jordan was honored for her last act: pushing students to safety as the bus launched onto a curb after the driver did not properly use the parking brake. The Marion County prosecutor’s office declined to file charges.
To some, Pennington’s position might be unenviable. He replaces a beloved principal who served for 22 years. He leads a staff who are in different stages of the grieving process.
Yet Amy Beverland is pushing forward. In many ways, the school was normal.
Pennington moved through the school on a Tuesday morning as students sunk into their routines after summer vacation. The morning settled into a purposeful silence with students concentrating on work in classrooms after the bustle of the beginning of the day.
Before school even started, Pennington said, the Amy Beverland community signaled their welcome.
Knowing he is a sports fan, the students surprised him with baseball jerseys that said “ABE All Stars” on the front and their names on the back.
At a lunch for families, the students unveiled the jerseys and sang the school song.
“They wanted to let me know they were ready for me to be their coach,” Pennington said.
A teacher and administrator for 15 years, Pennington last worked as an assistant principal at Promise Road Elementary in Noblesville. He taught fifth grade and third grade before moving into an administrative role.
He comes at a turning point for the school. Students and staff are working through grief and finding ways to honor and remember Jordan. But there is also a focus on not dwelling on the past, and moving forward.
“As we saw all these recognitions and wonderful attempts to celebrate and honor Susan Jordan, it was kind of like ripping off Band-Aids and picking off scabs,” said Dana Altemeyer, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township. “As kids were being moved forward, some were set back.”
Pennington added: “That’s what she would want.”
For some staff members, the beginning of the school year meant facing some unknowns.
“That was my greatest anxiety for the school year,” assistant principal Angie Crousore said. “What would it feel like coming in? What would be first day of school be like?”
Yet Crousore said during the hiring process, there was a fast consensus regarding Pennington. He was one of six candidates interviewed, plucked from a batch of 32 who applied for the job.
Crousore started working at the school under Jordan’s leadership, then saw interim principal Connie Thomas come out of retirement to help smooth a school in crisis.
“Both of those ladies have such huge hearts and just a passion for what they do,” Crousore said. “He is the spitting image of that.”
In fact, Pennington wasn’t looking for jobs when the position was posted. He was happy working in Noblesville Schools.
“When I heard of everything that occurred here, I felt drawn to the position,” he said. “I knew it would take a supportive and caring person to facilitate moving forward.”
He let the staff determine what to do with the various honors to Jordan throughout the school. They decided when the large banner came down and where to place the memorial star.
“I’ve taken time to listen, to let people know it’s OK to express your feelings,” he said. “When things come up, and tears are present, I know it’s not a reflection of me, and I am here for them.”
He appears on a television newscast produced by the students Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Now, two weeks into the year, Pennington is falling into a routine.
On a recent Friday newscast, he sat surrounded by students, and gave a shoutout to his four puppies at home: Brody, Stella, Alana and Max.
He circles the building in the mornings, checking in on students. He signs his emails, “Shine on,” a salute to the school’s moniker, a star. Now, parents and staff are including “shine on” in their email responses to him.
He’s learning names more quickly than he thought he would.
“They like to quiz me,” Pennington said. “When I know their name, they always raise the bar and say do you know my brother or sister’s name?”
Pennington said he knew after partaking in a cadet program for teaching during his senior year in high school that he wanted to pursue education. In particular, he said he feels that his place is at the elementary level. He joked that he has asked middle and high school teachers how they do it.
He was undecided before the cadet program but knew what his calling was after the first day.
“I’ve never looked back,” he said.
He’s called on Thomas, the retired principal who stepped in on an interim basis, when he has questions.
Thomas even made an appearance at the school on the first day when she walked over a student who had mistakenly gone to the nearby early learning center where Thomas volunteers.
But following two women who left their mark on the school, Pennington said he is cultivating his own leadership style at Amy Beverland.
“I’ve said repeatedly, those are shoes you don’t try to fill,” Pennington said. But, like Jordan, and Thomas after her, he takes a lap of the school in the morning to greet students and teachers. He knows their names. He celebrates their birthdays.
With Jordan, the students got bookmarks and pencils on their birthdays.
With Pennington, the students stop by his office for a hug, handshake or a high-five.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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