Tragedy, adversity helped shape Lexington middle school principal's approach to education

Principal Wade Stanfield, right, visited with Anaya Ellis, age 10 at Lexington Traditional Magnet School (LTMS) during the first day of school in Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 13, 2014. Wednesday was Stanfield's first day as principal at LTMS.  Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Principal Wade Stanfield, right, visited with Anaya Ellis, age 10 at Lexington Traditional Magnet School (LTMS) during the first day of school in Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 13, 2014. Wednesday was Stanfield's first day as principal at LTMS. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Wade Stanfield, the new principal at Lexington Traditional Magnet School, will tell his students this year not to take any day for granted.

Stanfield said he has not taken a day for granted since 1994, when Stanfield was playing basketball at Sue Bennett College at London. Stanfield, a 6-foot-8 center, was the national scoring leader in his division. His mother, who lived in Mississippi, decided to bring his 2-year-old daughter and other family members up for a visit.

On their way to London, the car veered off a Tennessee highway and plunged over an embankment and into a creek bed. His mother and daughter died.

"I was ready to just give up, just lie down. I was just done emotionally," said Stanfield, who was nearing college graduation at the time. He finished his basketball career as an All-America center, and graduated.

But Stanfield, now 44, said he recovered, in part, by focusing on his career in education. He tells his students what he learned from the tragedy.

"You are going to have adversity in life. You just have to figure a way to keep going. It just taught me that you can't give up."

Stanfield said students who have challenges in the classroom or at home might identify with another part of his life story. He was raised by his grandparents. When his grandmother became very sick, he quit high school to help his grandfather take care of her. He earned a GED to get into junior college.

Stanfield said he wants to bring consistency and higher academic excellence to LTMS, a middle school that has had three principals in three years.

The Herald-Leader reported in 2005 that when LTMS, which is at 350 North Limestone, was created in 1989, it was purely an application-only school that followed a traditional curriculum with high standards for academics and behavior. At that time, LTMS accepted only children who could read at grade level, had a C average and a record of good conduct, and the school's test scores were the highest in the state. The article said test scores declined somewhat after the school board allowed neighborhood children to attend LTMS which occurred at least 14 years ago.

The state currently classifies LTMS as a school that "needs improvement" in terms of academics.

According to the district's website, 53 percent of students qualify for free and reduced priced lunches. Forty-five percent of students are black and 41 percent are white.

The perception, Stanfield said, is "that since they opened it up to the community," LTMS does not have "the same clout that it had." Stanfield said he is here to change that.

He said the magnet school has a rigorous curriculum. Students are eligible if they are reading on grade level and have a "C" average or better. They are then placed in a lottery.

Stanfield is convinced that as a community school with a magnet program "we can teach all students; we can teach those kids at high levels" as well as the school's general population.

He also wants to make LTMS the best possible school for the downtown community that surrounds the school.

Stanfield said he has been attending neighborhood association meetings and on Sept. 25 is holding an LTMS community forum at the Lyric Theatre where teachers and other staff can answer families' questions.

Stanfield, a former associate principal at Henry Clay High School, said LTMS will have new expectations for behavior and is implementing a system of learning in which students demonstrate through projects what they know. It is a system that brought national attention to Danville's district, where he was working as an assistant principal when he accepted the LTMS job last spring.

Stanfield spent seven weeks at LTMS last year observing so Wednesday, the district's first day of school, would go as smoothly as possible and he could start the 2014-2015 year strong.

Camille Towns, a coach for teachers at LTMS, said teachers were on edge because they didn't know what to expect from Stanfield. But Towns said Stanfield "has been able to bring people together so that we have collaboration, cooperation."

In addition to working as an administrator at Central Kentucky schools, Stanfield has completed a Kentucky Department of Education Minority Superintendent Internship at both Madison and Fayette County schools.

Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton, who visited Stanfield and other new principals Wednesday, told the Herald-Leader that he had been impressed by Stanfield for years.

"He really knows how to bring out the best in people," Shelton said.

Shelton said Stanfield is one of three black principals — including Greg Ross at the Academy for Leadership at Millcreek and Twanjua Jones at Yates — starting this year. The district has six new principals, he said.

"We don't have a diversity in our workforce to match the diversity in our student body," Shelton said.

"It's been a specific focus that we've had, working with our equity council and the (school) board to recruit more minorities and we have to really do that at the administrative level first."

Stanfield said he knows that he is a role model for students and he will treat them "just like my children."

"I don't treat my boys at home (ages 10 and 15) any different than I treat the kids here at school," he said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader