After 20 years as director of attendance for Coffee County Schools, Sharon Spears decided it is time to retire.
Her decision is strategic; the State Department of Education is changing the platform it currently used to capture the data from all of the school districts across the state. Spears decided that it would be best for the district for someone new to learn and receive the initial training for the new state requirements.
She is leaving big shoes to fill. In her 20 years, though she doesn’t believe she’s done anything remarkable, she explained how her position allowed her to touch the lives of students and families.
“I feel I have lived in average unremarkable life that no one else will have much interest in, but I know I've made a difference in the life of a former student when they make a special effort to speak to me around town,” Spears said.
The standout story happened in 2013 when a young man visited the Coffee County Schools’ Director of Health Janet Thornton. The high schooler was complaining of headaches and had already missed many days of school. Spears was called into Thornton’s office to talk with the teenager as well.
“After talking to him for a long period of time, he finally told us his mother was arrested and would be going to prison. He was homeless. He had a post on Facebook asking if someone had a couch to crash on,” Spears recalled.
Spears contacted his older brother, who lived outside of the county, helped him gain custody of the teen so he could attend school, ensured all of the boy’s credits would transfer over, and Thornton worked with the boy’s neurologist to help with his headaches. The pair also helped with the boy’s financial needs until custody was awarded to his brother.
With their help, his older brother gained custody and the teen moved in with his brother and enrolled in the new high school.
“I stayed in contact with the other school district, and on his graduation day, we phoned him to congratulate him. In the fall of the next year, I phoned him when he started college and I've called him every year since just to say we are still here supporting and cheering you on,” Spears said.
“This young man is currently attending college. Mrs. Thornton and I learned early on that we need to treat the whole child. A student's health and attendance go hand-in-hand. If a student is not healthy, they cannot learn; whether it's mental, medical, or emotional issue,” she continued.
“Once he knew we were in his corner and we had developed a relationship of trust, his headaches gradually dissipated,” Spears concluded.
Advice to her successor
With her retirement rapidly approaching, the district is looking to quickly fill the position. Spears offered some advice to her successor.
“You need to be firm, but fair,” she said. “Treat all students and families with compassion, concern and respect. Always give the students a glimmer of light at the end of the rainbow. Some students never see past their current situation.”
“As a teacher, you need to have courage, empathy and perseverance; courage to monitor and adjust your curriculum to embrace new teaching methods and technology in order to prepare students for the world of tomorrow; empathy in order to make each child you teach feel validated and capable of reaching their full potential; perseverance for making time and putting forth the much-needed effort to accomplish your goals. You are molding the lives of tomorrow's leaders,” she added.
Her final piece of wisdom was to communicate with your colleagues.
“They can be a big part of your success. Each and every one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. Don't ever feel you should not ask for help. We learn from each other just like our students. I believe that good teaching relies on a passion for the content, the desire to make a difference and love for the students,” Spears said.
Spear’s 44 years in education
Spears spent 44 years total in education.
“I went into education because of my concern and interest for children,” Spears said. “I have always regarded education as a priority for everyone to succeed in life. Many of the children that I work with live in a family that struggles to make ends meet. They do not realize the importance of getting an education or that college or trade school is an option for them after high school.”
She began in 1975 in Franklin County School District as a classroom teacher. After spending a year there, she moved to the Manchester City school system for one year as a Title 1 remedial teacher for second and fifth grade. She took a year off work after getting married and returned to teaching in 1978 in the Grundy County School District.
In 1981, she transferred to Hillsboro Elementary School as a Title 1 remedial teacher, before transferring to North Coffee. She stayed with North Coffee Elementary until the end of the 1987-88 school year before transferring back to Hillsboro. She remained there as a fourth grade teacher until 1991.
Freda Jones asked her to take a position at the Coffee County Board of Education as a Title 1 consulting teacher to assist her with the implementation of the Write to Read computer-based program. Starting in 1993 through the spring of 1996, she was also assigned the duties of Technology supervisor for the system.
In the fall of 1996-99, she was moved to a new position of Family and Student Services supervisor and oversaw the DARE program, the Student Assistance Program and the extended school program.
At the beginning of 1999, the late Stan Koss, director of attendance at the time, died from a massive heart attack. Former Superintendent Bobby Cummins asked her to become the director of attendance.
“I have worked in several different roles during my career, but I'm probably best known for my work as the director of attendance with the Coffee County School District,” she said. “I have tried to be a dedicated hard-working employee focused on making sure all students are provided an education that will open doors for them in the future”
“I have sometimes been disliked because I'm straightforward and honest with people,” Spears added. “I always tried to speak frankly with parents and guardians on how they can help their child succeed, not only in school, but in life. Sometimes people don't want to hear what really needs to be done.
“I hope I am remembered as a good role model for students and a person that genuinely cared about the students and families in Coffee County. I hope the students remember my classroom as a safe, caring, warm environment where they were able to learn,” she concluded.