CORDOVA — As a child, Alisa Brown enjoyed playing school. Now she is in charge of one.The Cordova native recently began her first year as principal of her alma mater.Brown, who came to Cordova High …
CORDOVA — As a child, Alisa Brown enjoyed playing school. Now she is in charge of one.
The Cordova native recently began her first year as principal of her alma mater.
Brown, who came to Cordova High as a teacher in 2002, is setting the tone for a new school year with small, simple gestures aimed at fostering a sense of community among students and staff.
Before students returned, Brown took teachers on a field trip around the city.
The CHS faculty includes several new hires and more who are not from Cordova and never venture further than the high school parking lot. The tour was meant to give them an understanding of what life outside of school is like for their students in a community where more than a third of residents live in poverty.
Brown took the group to local housing complexes as well as more rural parts of the community where internet service is not available, which gave the teachers a new perspective on how students would have to struggle to complete assignments that require internet research.
She also showed them places where the kids gather for fun, such as the neighborhood where trick-or-treaters from all over the city descend each Halloween and go door-to-door, and provided popsicles for them to give away to children they met on the field trip.
"I didn't want it to be a sob story. I wanted them to see all aspects of where our kids live and get a picture of what it's like for them," Brown said.
On the first day of school, Brown surprised the school's bus drivers with cookies that had their names on them. The gesture was especially meaningful for Brown, whose mother drove a bus for over 20 years.
"They spend not only that year with the child but they spend from K through 12 with a lot of kids. Theirs is the first face the students see in the morning and the last face they see in the afternoon. I want them to know that they're valued," Brown said.
She has also looked for ways to let the school's lunchroom staff and custodians know they are appreciated, whether by bringing them sweets or asking their opinion on a matter.
Around the school itself, Brown has worked to create a homey atmosphere. She has redecorated the office and hung photos of students in the halls.
A poster-sized photo of the FFA officers on a kayak trip hangs near the office. More photos of the school's athletes and band members are scattered in the main areas of the school.
Walls of honor for CHS homecoming queens and Queen of Hearts winners are in the works.
She also wants to have a slideshow of pictures taken by the yearbook staff rolling on TV screens that are installed in the main gathering areas.
"The kids love pictures of themselves. We want to encourage them to participate in things and help them feel like it's their school," Brown said.
As much as Brown loved learning when she was a student, teaching was her second career choice.
She had planned to be a pharmacist, but there was so much competition the year that she applied to Samford University's program that only one of her eight classmates from Freed-Hardeman University made the cut.
Rather than wait a year to reapply, she transferred to the University of Alabama in Birmingham with a new goal of being a math teacher. However, because she had only taken one math class in her first three years of college, it would have taken an additional three years to get her degree.
Instead, she switched to science so that she could graduate in a year.
"Math was my favorite, but I'm glad now that I didn't teach it. Science was a little bit of a struggle for me, and I think that helped as I became a teacher because I had to really study. I feel like I could teach it in a way that they could learn because that's what I had had to do," she said.
Her first teaching job was at Hewitt-Trussville Junior High School, where she taught ninth grade physical science.
The school was so overcrowded that she was not assigned a classroom in her first year. Like her students, she switched from room to room during the day.
"I was in seven different classrooms that first year. My second year, I got a classroom, and I got to know the kids a lot better. That transition time between classes gave me an opportunity to have those conversations that helped me get to know them" she said.
After three years, she accepted a job at Oakman High School. She inherited a recently-remodeled science lab that didn't have any equipment in it.
She held fundraisers and got involved with Alabama Science in Motion, which helped her acquire equipment that the school would not have been able to purchase otherwise.
In 2002, she was hired as a science teacher at CHS.
Her first administrative job was as assistant principal of Bankhead Middle School. After two years, she came back to CHS to fill a second assistant principal position that opened up because of an influx of students.
Enrollment at the time was over 500, double what it had been when she came to Cordova a decade earlier.
Though the number of CHS students has dipped slightly since then, the school is stil made up of a mixture of students who live in Cordova and those from neighboring communities. As principal, Brown's goal is to create opportunities for students to enjoy their high school experience and for teachers to prepare students for the worlds of college or career.
"I'm excited about the job, but the job isn't about me. It's about making sure everyone here has what they need to be successful," Brown said.