By Lindsay Pace Daffron // Photo by Lauren Wood
“All of us are better than any one of us.”
Myrtle Attendance Center Principal Tommy Ozbirn guides others by this mantra. He believes in the power of community, of big-hearted teachers and of inclusivity. His approach to leadership is certainly relationship-oriented.
“I have never had any desire to be someone’s boss. That is absolutely not what school administration is about,” Ozbirn said. “I believe administrators are to work with teachers as a team to develop solutions that help us best serve our students.”
Under his administration, part of team work means solving problems. Teachers have distinct insight about student affairs he may not have as principal. Ozbirn’s job is to pair their firsthand wisdom with his unique vision for the school.
“It’s fun and a challenge to put the puzzle pieces together,” he said. “A key is to include teachers in the decisions.”
When you understand teachers, including them proves easy. Prior to serving as principal, Ozbirn taught history for seven years, once manning a high school history department single-handedly. He also drove school buses each morning and coached a championship winning fast-pitched softball team.
Incorporate his understanding with his passion for hard data, and see improved test scores, better lessons, and higher accountability models. According to Ozbirn, data is a foundation for Myrtle’s education.
“Teachers now understand how each one of their students count for us, and they have done a phenomenal job” Ozbirn stated. “My first year [as principal], our accountability model score went up to 710 points and we were the highest performing school in the district and third highest scoring attendance center in the state.”
Beyond great data and great teamwork, though, stands a certain kind of empathy for others. In Myrtle, Mississippi, this is not a rarity, but a pillar of life.
“We have the best group of teachers I have ever been around. They worry about them, cry over them, and then do whatever it takes for them,” Ozbirn said. “Our teachers spend a lot of their own money buying food or clothes for our students that have needs. When we have hearts like that for kids, big things are going to happen.”