Shannon Middle School administrators bring strong bond

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

SHANNON – Two individuals who built a relationship on the football fields of New Albany now find themselves in the middle of a major school improvement project.
Keith Steele, who was introduced on Monday as the new principal at Shannon Middle School, has spent 11 years working with Rodney Spears, the school’s new assistant principal.
The two men have coached defense together at New Albany High School and have worked at that district’s alternative school. They each spent seven years at Saltillo High School.
“We’ve worked together a lot and gotten to know each other and trust each other,” Steele said. “When you work together in those tough times, you learn what someone’s mettle is. He’s a great guy.”
Now they’re reunited at Shannon Middle School, which has become ground zero in an innovative project to transform a school whose 2009 state test scores were in the bottom 5 percent of the state.
The Lee County School District has applied for a federal grant that could bring the school $1.25 million annually for three years. They’ve rewritten policies to give the school’s principal autonomy and the power to implement a flexible schedule and calendar.
And they’ve allowed teachers at the school to earn special bonuses based on student performance.
It’s a unique school turnaround experiment. And it will be led by two men who know each other well.
“We see things the same,” Steele said. “His values are the same and his vision of success is the same as mine.
“It means we don’t need to learn each other’s trust and loyalty. We don’t have any downtime learning what we expect to do and what we need to do. We’re going to support each other without question because we know each other.”
It’s been three years since Steele and Spears worked together. During that time, Steele was assistant superintendent for Lee County Schools, and Spears was an assistant principal and later principal at Pontotoc High School.
But the two still communicated regularly. During Steele’s interview for the Shannon job, he expressed interest in having Spears join him.
When he offered Spears the position, the administrator agreed before asking any questions.
“He’s been my mentor,” Spears said.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.