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Springfield principal named tops in Missouri

Friday, March 21, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — It's almost impossible to get James Grandon to talk about himself.

But the longtime Boyd Elementary principal — honored as Missouri's top elementary principal — loves talking about the positive changes he has seen in his school, teachers and students.

In a short walk through the 103-year-old building, he also enthusiastically discusses recent interdisciplinary projects. One required students to create passports and interact with international college students, speaking many different languages, to simulate an Ellis Island check-in experience.

Grandon was recently named the 2014 Missouri Distinguished Principal by the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals. In October, he will be recognized, along with top principals from other states, in Washington, D.C.

"This is about what we've done as a team. As a principal, this isn't about me," said Grandon, 43. "Principals don't spend a lot of time thinking about what's on their resumes. You think about what's best for your kids and your school."

Boyd has experienced a renaissance during Grandon's 12-year tenure. When he moved into the principal's office, enrollment had dwindled to about 160 and discussion about closing the school kept coming up.

Poverty and mobility were high, as they remain today, but enrollment soared to 270 during the 2012-13 year, student achievement has improved and a greater number of staff and students have stayed.

At any point, up to 15 percent of the students are homeless, and the school, which has forged strong partnerships with Drury University and many nearby businesses, spends a lot of effort creating stability for children experiencing upheaval.

The school works closely with the Missouri Hotel, a homeless shelter on nearby Commercial Street, as well as its feeder schools — Pipkin Middle School and Central High School.

The most significant change came in 2006, when Grandon helped move Boyd into an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school, making it one of the first elementary schools in Missouri to be fully authorized as an International Baccalaureate World School.

The goal of that interdisciplinary approach is to inspire students "to become lifelong learners and responsible, globally minded citizens." Grandon said the transformation gave the school "hope and a vision."

"In this information age, it isn't about what you know, it's how you use the knowledge," he said. "It's the children who can formulate the question and conduct the research."

Grandon now also works with the International Baccalaureate organization, providing training and accrediting schools.

Fourth-grade teacher Troy Kuchta joined the Boyd faculty 16 years ago but had become slightly disillusioned before Grandon took over. He said teachers and staff were recruited to help envision a new path for Boyd, which he found invigorating.

"He's been someone who has taken who I am and helped me understand the potential I had in myself," Kuchta said. "It's made me want to be a better teacher."

Kuchta said Grandon's leadership style is to involve students, staff and the community in creating the changes.

"We're very proud of what he's accomplished here," Kuchta said. "Being a small school, as we are, doesn't limit what we can accomplish."

In the mid-1990s, Grandon started his career as a teacher at Robberson Elementary. He was assistant principal at Gray and Westport elementary schools before taking the Boyd job. He has earned a bachelor's, master's and specialist degrees in education from Missouri State University.

Nearly all of the married father's five children have gone through Boyd. The oldest two have already graduated, and the youngest, 11, is a fifth-grader at Boyd.

Grandon said he's stayed at Boyd because the job is never stagnant. He can see growth and believes he has made a difference.

"This school just continues to reinvent itself," he said. "We continue to find new and better ways to reach children, and what we're doing here gives them a brighter future."


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