Veteran Educator Advises School Leaders as UT’s Principal-in-Residence

Betty Sue Sparks

KNOXVILLE — Betty Sue Sparks remembers when she was an elementary school principal trying to mediate between school staff, students and parents over how much noise was tolerable in the cafeteria.

“This may seem like a small matter, but it could have turned into a big problem,” she said. While some of her school staff wanted students to eat in virtual silence, students and parents thought they were being too harsh — that lunch should be a time for casual socializing and practicing social skills.

Sparks diffused the situation by inviting parents to join students for lunch and help encourage appropriate table conversation.

“It worked out well,” Sparks said, “but it would have been nice to have someone to confer with along the way.”

Now Sparks is the person area school principals and assistant principals can call upon when they need advice.

Sparks is the Cornerstone Principal in Residence at the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The center is a collaborative venture between the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies in UT’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and Knox County Schools. The center’s components include: The Leadership Academy, a principal training program; The Educational Leadership Institute, a summer institute for school leaders; The Executive Leadership Institute, a summer institute for district-level leaders; The Leadership Resource Center, providing a variety of professional development opportunities; and job-embedded support for current principals.

Sparks, who earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the UT Knoxville, spent 10 years as a special education and elementary school teacher. She was principal at Knoxville Adaptive Education Center, Mooreland Heights Elementary School, Cedar Bluff Intermediate School and Farragut Primary School. She also served as an elementary supervisor and spent eight years as director of human resources for Knox County Schools.

After retiring in 2004 she spent five years as executive director of the Distinguished Professionals Education Institute, a partnership of the Public School Forum of East Tennessee, Pro2Serve and the Knox County Schools designed to address the growing need for teachers with expertise in math, science, foreign languages and other areas of critical shortage. She also provided mentoring and training services for new principals and new assistant principals by serving part-time as Knox County Schools’ facilitator for administrator development.

At UT, she will share her experience with aspiring principals in The Leadership Academy, which welcomes its first class of 12 fellows today. She also will offer professional development opportunities for Knox County School administrators through The Educational Leadership Institute and provide “job-embedded support” by inviting area educational leaders to monthly training meetings and by traveling to their schools to work with them on specific projects.

Sparks said principals’ questions often range from how to handle parent conferences to how to provide meaningful professional development for teachers to how to better use technology to advance students’ learning.

“It’s not that I have all the answers,” she said. “But, in many cases, I know who to connect them with to get the answers.

“What I bring to the table is a lot of experience and willingness to help them make important connections.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)

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