The daughter of two Lehigh Elementary School teachers, Bethany Quisenberry always knew she’d follow her parent’s footsteps into education. She began teaching kindergarten students, many of whom were English language learners, even obtaining a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University in Teaching English to Students of Another Language (TESOL), before earning her doctorate’s degree.
But when Quisenberry started training other teachers and assuming more leadership roles, she realized the greater impact she could have on children and instructors as a school administrator, a career she’s had for 10 years.
Quisenberry’s abilities were put to the ultimate test in 2014, when she became principal at Franklin Park Elementary, located in the heart of the Dunbar community, with the highest poverty and minority percentage in the School District of Lee County.
When Quisenberry started, the school had an “F” grade, a high turnover rate, and serious attendance problem. Today, Franklin Park is a “C” school with low turnover and the 20th highest attendance record in the district.
What changed? “We started really focusing on the mindset and morale of teachers and kids,” Quisenberry says. With the help of the school district, Quisenberry hired a full-time social worker, nurse, behavior coach and guidance counselor to meet the children’s basic needs, as many were having trouble at home.
“Franklin Park has 48 students who are homeless, so it’s just about how you develop those home lives, because they have such an impact on school lives,” Quisenberry says. “I had a lot of training with teachers on how they can help with their mindsets and give high expectations.”
Quisenberry also focused less on test scores and more on tracking the students who performed exceptionally below average, sending a social worker out to their households to address any deeper issues, which is uncommon for public schools—which might have social workers on campus once per week—to do.
“We’ve been able to show that when parents trust you and have a good relationship with you, and it really becomes a home-school partnership, you can make a big impact, especially in high-poverty schools,” Quisenberry says.
Quisenberry, a member of the Lee County School District Minority Recruitment Committee, which helps to bring teachers of various backgrounds to local schools, also says its important to employ staff that the students can relate to.
“Children need to see leaders who represent their culture,” Quisenberry says. She’s helped recruit several teachers from historically black colleges in Florida to Franklin Park.
“I do what I do for the kids, and I’m proud of seeing the success of our kids and our families,” Quisenberry says.