Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series profiling principals in the Elmore County School System.
For elementary-aged school children living in Wetumpka, the education they receive at Wetumpka Elementary School is vital to their educational success in the future. Overseeing these critical years is principal Dr. Bonnie Sullivan, who has dedicated herself to ensuring the school is the best it can be.
“There are three goals I started with,” Sullivan said. “These formed the entry plan I made based on what I think the school needs.”
These three points have been guiding Sullivan ever since and she believes they’ve had a positive impact on the school since being implemented:
• First is making sure the general public sees Wetumpka Elementary School in a positive light.
• Second is maintaining a safe atmosphere at the school.
• Third is boosting student achievement in every grade.
To achieve the first goal, Sullivan said she not only observes what her students are doing but takes time to be visible in the community. This includes going to a wide variety of community events, being seen and spending time conversing with the community about Wetumpka Elementary School and what is happening on campus.
“Of course I can’t be at every single event in the community but I try to be at as many events as I can,” Sullivan said. “It’s a very important part of being a principal, being visible in the community.”
Although the second goal will always be an ongoing process, Sullivan said the school has worked hard to create a safer environment from the moment a student is dropped off in the morning until he or she is picked up in the afternoon. Since taking over and setting this goal, Sullivan said the school improved its system, having doubled its car lanes and received grant money to work on its common areas. A digital system for students who ride in cars to school is nearly finalized, she said.
Student achievement has grown over the past couple of years. Wetumpka Elementary School received a grade of “C” (76) on the report card released by the Alabama Department of Education in February 2018 but increased it to a “B” (84) on the latest report card released in December.
“Going from a ‘C’ to a ‘B’ was huge for us,” she said.
Sullivan said her entire career in the education field has been in Wetumpka, beginning with teaching second and fourth grade. After this, she said she became an instructional partner, similar to an instructional coach, then served as an assistant principal at Wetumpka Elementary School and Wetumpka High School before being named the elementary school’s principal.
“I love teaching and I always feel like I’ve been a leader,” Sullivan said. “When I started teaching, I took on additional tasks from the principal. I feel I was good at it and I wanted to keep making a change.”
When making major decisions involving the school, Sullivan said she solicits input from teachers, staff members, students and parents before proceeding on any course of action. For example, when the school was preparing to obtain new playground equipment, Sullivan asked students what they wanted, which was included in the grant application the school submitted. Throughout the year, the school has various committees working on different ideas to keep the school moving in the right direction.
“Without input, we can’t move forward,” Sullivan said. “I depend a lot on our admin team. While I’m the one making decisions, a lot of input goes into the process. You have to have teachers and students with you as a team in order to be a successful leader.”
No school is without its problems, however, and Sullivan said the issues Wetumpka Elementary School faces are similar to many other schools. This includes miscommunication and helping students coming from impoverished backgrounds.
“We are a Title I school, so we do see poverty,” Sullivan said. “We will partner with the community in times of need. The food pantry we have at school helps out our students. We put a lot of extra resources into this.”
Sullivan said many positive things are taking place at Wetumpka Elementary. The school has three pre-K classrooms, part of a study Harvard University conducted. Wetumpka Elementary has received approximately $60,000 in grants for play-based learning and is increasing its one-to-one technology initiative, putting Google Chromebooks in the hands of each student in second, third and fourth grades, along with iPads for students in the younger grades.
Sullivan has been recognized for her efforts, including being named Elmore County Best of the Best in 2016 and 2018, receiving the Emerging Leader Award from CLAS (Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools) and the Distinguished Advocate Award from Auburn University in Montgomery.
While there is much Sullivan still wants to achieve, much progress has been made with her guidance and the valuable input she receives on a daily basis from teachers, students, parents and other key stakeholders.
“We can achieve anything when we put our minds together,” Sullivan said. “Our school is moving in the right direction.”