From left are Stephanie Barnes and Rebecca Farley.

Two Cumberland County schools administrators have been named finalists for the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2020-’21 Tennessee Principal of the Year and Supervisor of the year.

Finalists were selected in each Center of Regional Excellence region in the state. Stephanie Barnes, principal of The Phoenix School, and Rebecca Farley, pre-K-8th grade supervisor of curriculum and instruction, were honored for the Upper Cumberland region.

Barnes has worked for Cumberland County schools since 1995, when she was hired as a teacher at North Cumberland Elementary School following graduation from Tennessee Technological University. 

She taught math and coached basketball. She moved to Stone Elementary as a teacher when the school opened in 1999, and later served as assistant principal for the school.

She took the principal position at The Phoenix School in 2017. There, she leads eight distinct programs on one campus. 

“They keep me hopping,” she said. “And I get to interact with so many age groups. It’s very rewarding because each one of them, you see them grow in different ways.”

The school serves high school students who are at risk of not graduating on time. It also offers alternative school programs for students at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. The Transition Academy serves special education students who have graduated high school and need to develop independent living skills. The Special Day School services students in grades 6-12 who have been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed. The Baby Birds Daycare serves Phoenix School students with free daycare services while the parent is in attendance at school, and the Baby Birds Learning Center offers services for developmentally delayed children ages 18 months to 3 years old. 

The school has seen gains in its attendance and other accountability factors. Barnes and the staff are committed to helping students overcome barriers to completing school. The school has the Phoenix Uber, purchased with a grant, that staff can use to go get students who miss the bus or don’t come to school. An attendance perks luncheon, supported by businesses around the community, have helped spur students to make it to school regularly.

“They are coming and asking how close they are to their goal because they really want to attend the luncheon,” she said. 

Barnes encourages the school faculty and staff to consider the needs of the whole child on the Phoenix campus, not just academic needs. She said her staff goes above and beyond to help connect students and families to other resources in the community to address needs. 

“When they realize we don’t just care about their academics, that we care about them, that’s when the buy-in comes,” Barnes said. 

She was selected for the countywide honor by her fellow principals and administrators. 

Farley credits her early teachers with instilling an interest in and passion for learning. She began her career at North Cumberland Elementary teaching seventh-grade math. 

Farley had returned to school herself shortly after beginning teaching, earning a master's in instructional leadership. She later earned a doctorate in educational leadership. 

She served as a middle school math teacher for six years before she took on the role of assistant principal at North Cumberland.

"Once I tried administration, I felt I could help be a support for teachers," she said. "I really enjoyed that aspect."

The next year, she went to Crab Orchard Elementary where she served as principal for 10 years. There, she not only served as the instructional leader for the students and teachers, but championed the school’s needs to school and county leaders.

"I'm so excited that they got their new building," she said. "That was well deserved, not only for the students and staff, but the community."

Four years ago, Farley left her principal position and moved to Central Services, where she serves as the supervisor of elementary curriculum and instruction. 

"I get to help more teachers," she said. "But I miss the student aspect of it." 

As the elementary supervisor, she gets the chance to work with those early-grade teachers she once aspired to be. She helps compile data and secure resources and tools that help teachers and schools better serve their students in all subjects. 

Farley was selected as the 2020 Supervisor of the Year by her fellow administrators and principals. 

Principal and Supervisor of the Year finalists will proceed to an interview that will be held in in the coming weeks where each will meet with a panel of interviewers made up of department staff and other education leaders. Winners for each Grand Division and the Tennessee Principal and Supervisor of the Year will be selected from this group and announced this fall.