Homegrown Talent

Homegrown talent
Posted on 07/10/2017

A pair of seasoned educators who rose up through the rank and file within the Poplar Bluff school system have been promoted to lead their respective buildings.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Mike Owen to take Michael Kiehne’s place as High School principal and Candace Warren was chosen to succeed retired principal Bob Case at Junior High.

“Whenever we engage in an extensive search to fill an administrative position, it is my responsibility to employ the best candidate for the job, whether that individual happens to reside outside of the district or internally,” said Dr. Amy Jackson, assistant superintendent of personnel. “The fact that Mrs. Warren and Mr. Owen came up through the ranks and were the recommendations of their committees at the conclusion of the screening process demonstrates we are doing something well within the Poplar Bluff R-I School District.”

The district seeks to provide growth opportunities for staff, according to Jackson, who noted that witnessing colleagues advance their careers is a rewarding part of the job. In the past, she has hosted a leadership academy for employees, and was instrumental in bringing the first doctoral program to R-I through a partnership with Lindenwood University so faculty can further their education from home. 

Warren is currently wrapping up her master’s degree in administration from William Woods University in Fulton. She previously earned a master’s in general education from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, and has her education specialist in curriculum and instruction also from William Woods. Owen received his specialist degree in educational administration from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, where he too earned a master’s in administration.

Having spent her 22-year tenure at PBJHS, where she taught language arts for the most part, Warren was eventually named the head of the department around the time she was selected as district Teacher of the Year. In 2012, she accepted a position as instructional technology facilitator, shifting her attention from working with students to collaborating on lesson plans with teachers.

“I feel very fortunate that I was able to start my career at Junior High back in 1995 and grow there, with all my years being filled with teachers and students that I love,” Warren exclaimed. “I just enjoy working, whether teaching or in administration – I’m gonna put my heart and soul into whatever I do.”

Owen’s career path at R-I zigzagged a bit, conversely. He began as a fifth grade teacher in 1998, before moving to the building administration level within three years, first as PBHS dean of students and then assistant principal at the former 5th & 6th Grade Center. He has several years of experience running smaller buildings, having served as principal at Oak Grove and later at 5&6. He has been an assistant principal at Senior High since 2013.

“The best thing hands down about my career is how I’ve been able to follow these students throughout their education,” said Owen, pointing out that it gives him goosebumps thinking about it. “There is literally a group of students I had in first through sixth grade, lost them in grade seven and eight, and got them again in ninth… poor kids!” 

One of his first orders of business in his new role was to solicit feedback from teachers on fine-tuning the intensive care unit, a parental notification system designed to ensure that students complete their work, Owen said. Faculty no longer have to enter every missing assignment into the database unless a student’s grade drops below a C. The High School also created lifeguards: teachers from each core subject area who will visit with students during advisory to provide tutoring as needed. 

Junior High opted to add the ICU program as well, which Warren explained is a safeguard to catch students before they fall too far behind. Students in need of additional instruction will be pulled from academic lab or an elective for one-on-one time with a veteran teacher during the school day, she said.

Last year Senior High graduated the largest class since 1980, according to district records, and has improved its graduation rate by 10 percent since 2011. Owen said he believes expanding the Graduation Center to a full-blown non-traditional high school with upward of 40 students per grade level can increase the graduation rate to over 90 percent. 

“This day and age there are a lot of options for kids to take charge of their education like AP, flex, online classes, night school,” Owen explained. “Some high school students are [simultaneously] working on their AA degree completely on their own.”

Junior High was recently named a national showcase school under the Capturing Kids’ Hearts initiative. While Warren’s top priority is to find ways to improve academic achievement, she said, she intends on continuing to focus on staff/student relationship building. Changes that have already been made include shortening class periods so students can fit a second elective into their schedules, and reinstating homeroom.

“What I hope when I look back at the end of my first year is that we made a difference,” stated Warren, “and that we have such a positive image that parents in the community want to send their students here because of our many success stories.” 

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Cutline: PBHS Principal Mike Owen is pictured in his new office on his very first day on the job.

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