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Shelby County Public Schools named two near leaders for the coming school year.
Brenda King, since 2009 the county’s director of special education, will be the principal of the new Northside Early Childhood Center that is scheduled to open in January 2014.
And Ayanna Peake, a native of Louisville with an extensive background in psychology, will served as the Reading and Math Proficiency Coordinator (affectionately known as RAMP).
Superintendent James Neihof said in announcing the hiring of King that he believes King she is the right person for the role because of her extensive educational experience, starting in 1991 as a special education teacher in Virgie and continuing with a variety of elementary classroom roles.
“Brenda King has a passion for students and for learning,” Neihof said in the release. “With our increased focus on early childhood development, she will help open this new center and will help lead the staff to send every child to kindergarten equipped. She has been an active member of our leadership team, so the transition will certainly be a smooth one.”
King said she is excited about the transitions that will occur for the 3- and 4-year-olds, some of whom have disabilities, developmental delays or socio-economic hardships.
She said she wanted her program to “jump start the process for children. Knowing how to interact in a learning environment like sitting still for 10 minutes or more, walking in and knowing what to do in a classroom are the types of transition pieces we need.”
The program calls for about 300 students to attend class at the center on College Street for morning or afternoon sessions. Each class will have a certified teacher and two instructional assistants, plus the services of various therapists. Life skills instruction along with academics will be included.
“I want to teach parents how to read with and work with their child…using books and even hands-on tasks for math,” King said.
Neihof said he believes Peake will be a catalyst in her new role.
Ayanna Peake brings a clear passion for helping at-risk students,” he said in a release announcing her hiring. “She has a lot of experience working with students, parents, and staff specifically in this area. We’re excited about the impact she is going to make particularly on struggling students, but also for the district-at-large.”
The RAMP position is intended to provide leadership in developing comprehensive programs focused on gap closure. The proverbial “gap” refers to students who, because of any number of factors, are academically behind other students with fewer barriers.
“We have several programs already in place that address some of these areas and focus on the district’s Big Goals,” Peake said. “I hope to consolidate the work with these programs, plus bring a fresh set of eyes to reaching these students.”
Peake, a graduate of Male High School in Louisville, has spent time in New England, Panama and North Carolina while honing her craft. She earned a master’s degree in school psychology from Brown University; spent several months in Latin America, where she “learned about cultural influences and became moderately fluent in Spanish;” and has been a school psychologist with Cleveland County Schools in North Carolina.
“During my research, I’ve learned that too large of a percentage of minorities are in the special education arena while too few of the same group are represented in gifted programs,” she said. “I can relate to that – not many of the students looked like me in the high classes I took at Male. I want to advocate for all students to become successful.”
The RAMP position is suited for her approach. English language learners, migrant, summer school, after-school care and many other, similarly-focused programs will fall under her duties.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done,” Peake said. “My parents were teachers, and I’ve dedicated my life to advocating for children too. I have a passion…an enthusiasm…an excitement – I don’t know what to call it – for this new opportunity. I believe in the district’s Big Goals and know we can get there.”