Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 24, 2013

Ready to join a new school family

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — It may not be the most hard-hitting goal for an ambitious new principal, but Jamie Lester will tell you one of the first things he will do when school starts at Poage Elementary is start learning names.

“I’d like to know all the kindergarteners’ names by the end of August, and over time I’ll know all the kids’ names, where they live and their parents names,” Lester said.

While some may see that as warm, fuzzy and incidental, to Lester it is a vital step in becoming part of the Poage family of students, staff and parents — a family that has an established and successful culture he wants to nurture.

Poage’s council recently hired Lester, currently principal of Fallsburg Elementary in Lawrence County, to replace Bob Blankenship, who is retiring after 17 years.

Lester, who lives in Ashland although his educational career so far has been almost entirely in Lawrence County, has been keeping his eye on Poage and for some time has thought of it as his ideal next school. “Poage’s community may look different from Fallsburg but the children are not that different. Kindergartners are kindergartners. They’re all wide-eyed and excited.”

He sees similarities in the tight relationships among teachers, students and parents at both schools, and consistently high performance on state accountability assessments. Both schools are family-centered, with staffs that by and large have been there for years, and retention like that is an indication of school quality, he believes.

Lester, a native Boyd countian, is the son of two educators. His father Boyce Lester taught and coached football in the Boyd County district and his mother Ronna taught at Ponderosa Elementary and Garner Elementary before that.

His grandfather, A.N. Lester, was a Baptist pastor who taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Wayne, W.Va.

Lester, 46, has two master’s degrees in education and has worked in the field for 22 years, most of them at Fallsburg, where he has held the principalship for nine years.

“I know school. School is all that I know,” he said.

Taking the reins at Poage will be a matter of easing himself into an already efficiently humming system, he believes. “I don’t expect to be a member of the family the first day, but I’d like a seat at the table.”

Staff and students need to know he is ‘loyal, honest, consistent, fair, empathetic and sympathetic,” he said. He will be “an invisible observer” to learn the workings of the school.

However, he will be swift to respond to any children’s problems. “If it’s a kid problem, you’ve got to fix it now,” he said.

Lester officially takes over July 1.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.