Dalton Middle School's Missie McKinney doesn't know who nominated her as an assistant principal of the year, but after finishing as the runner-up for the award, she said it is a reflection on the entire school.

"With our size, naturally, teamwork is important," said McKinney, who was the runner-up for the award presented by the Georgia Association of Secondary Schools Principals. "I just have the philosophy of, 'I can't, but we can.' Because that has kind of been my philosophy, that is how I lead. I don't tell people what to do. We all work together to make things happen. Because their opinions and their thoughts are as important or more important than mine, and I feel like more brains are better than one."

McKinney was one of four finalists for the award which was presented on Nov. 11 in Savannah to Richmond Hill Middle School assistant principal Elizabeth Bennett. The other finalists were South Effingham High's Tammy Jacobs and Marcus Moore of Burke County High.

McKinney said she was shocked to learn she had been nominated, much less being a finalist for the award.

"I have no idea who nominated me," she said. "It is very humbling because absolutely we are a team and we all do this together. The admin team I work with, the teachers I work with -- I can't say how humbling this has all been.

"It gave me an opportunity to tell our story," she said. "Because I think we have a great story. We have got some great kids. We have a lot of challenges, but we have a lot of great kids and a lot of great teachers who are doing a lot of things right and they are just growing by leaps and bounds."

Dalton Middle principal Phil Jones said McKinney is a big part of that growth.

"Missie builds strong relationships with staff, students and parents," Jones said. "She understands instruction at a deep level and acts as a coach to our staff to assist them in improving their craft. She is innovative, caring and works tirelessly for long hours to make DMS the very best it can be for our learning community."

Jones pointed directly with McKinney's work with the ESS -- exceptional student services -- program which is catered to students with disabilities. Jones said McKinney completely revised the schedule for the ESS day and said aligning tiered instructional support for each student on an individual basis has "been a phenomenal transformation and extremely beneficial for our students."

McKinney said one of the biggest things she has tried to bring to the ESS program -- consisting of 16 teachers and eight paraprofessionals in the middle school -- are raised expectations of success.

"I think for me and working with our ESS kids, I truly believe that everybody can learn at high levels," she said. "I don't care what your level is. Because we have embraced that philosophy that has been our expectations. It doesn't matter where you are, whatever your level is, we expect you to learn more."

And she said the successes are appearing as more and greater expectations are placed on students.

"Kids who have special needs, they do need accommodations and need support, but sometimes, they just need to have things put in place that allow them to access and not so much they need you to do it for them," she said. "A lot of times that was what was happening. We have had to learn the balance of how to help them and learn it is OK if they struggle and grapple, but not to the point where they shut down."

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