A New Era at Powers Ferry ES
Rattana Inthirathvongsy has returned as principal to the school where he was an assistant principal for three years.
With a father who worked as a teacher in his native Laos, Rattana Inthirathvongsy learned early on the value of an education.
After emigrating from Laos to central Florida with his family as a 4-year-old, “Mr. I,” as Inthirathvongsy is affectionately known, pursued a career in education by earning his bachelor’s in elementary education at Florida State University and master’s in educational leadership at Kennesaw State. On Aug. 23, he will begin taking classes for his educational specialist degree through Berry College.
The new principal at Powers Ferry Elementary School, Inthirathvongsy is one of 16 principals in the Cobb County School District either new to their school or to the school system this year. He previously had been principal at Birney Elementary School in Cobb.
Inthirathvongsy talked about raising academic standards at Powers Ferry after the school missed making AYP standards for the first time in nine years and working with the school’s late principal Joan Mills when he sat down recently with Cobb Patch education writer Ethan Fowler for a question and answer session. What follows is a transcript of that conversation.
Q: What does it feel like to return to Powers Ferry Elementary after you were an assistant principal at the school during the 2005-06 school year through the 2007-08 school year?
A: It’s like a homecoming. The staff here is pretty stable, which is a positive, so there’s less transition time needed to get acclimated with the staff.
Q: How do you assess the challenge and opportunity to be the principal of Powers Ferry?
A: The opportunity to come back and affect this community is the reward for me, and to work with the children and families in this community. The challenges here is our transient student population and single-parent families whose parents are generally busy working several jobs. We have several environmental factors that impact our children, but it’s important to realize those aren’t excuses. But, it’s good to know what the barriers are so we can overcome them.
Q: What experience did you gain from Birney Elementary as a principal to better prepare for returning to Powers Ferry?
A: The biggest thing I learned at Birney is putting the right people in the right places, whether that was teachers, custodial staff or lunchroom monitors. Once you put the people on the front end, you trust them and enable people to do their job. You develop a relationship right from the hiring process that lets them know that I’m here to serve and support.
Q: Tell us about your background and how that has prepared you for this position.
A: I was a classroom teacher. I taught first, second and fourth grade, and obviously the assistant principalship here for three years and at Birney for three years. Personally, I was number five of six children and growing up we didn’t have enough money. You could say we were poor. I can identify with some families because we were immigrants and a lot of the families here are immigrants and we have a lot of Hispanic immigrants here. But one thing I want to get out is education was always valued in my home growing up. My dad was a teacher growing up in Laos and one of my sisters is also a teacher.
Q: What did you know about Joan Mills (the previous principal, who died in June shortly after retirement) and the legacy she left behind?
A: Joan was a mentor first and colleague after I became assistant principal, and mostly I consider her a friend. I’m proud to carry on her legacy at Powers Ferry because she was all about the kids.
Q: Powers Ferry was among the Cobb schools that did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards last year. What plans do you have to raise the academic performance at Powers Ferry?
A: My plans to raise the academic performance at Powers Ferry are to look at trend data from the past few years, determine where our weaknesses are and provide support to the student groups that need it. Beyond that, I want to increase the students that are in the exceeds (the standard) category.
Q: Given the challenges at Powers Ferry, with a multilingual, multicultural and transient student body, what is a reasonable expectation for student progress at this time? How well do you think Powers Ferry has been meeting those challenges as you begin your tenure here?
A: Obviously we had eight consecutive years of making AYP before this year, so we’ve been doing a good job. With the yearly targets increasing at a rapid rate, it will be a challenge. What I would consider a reasonable expectation for student progress is moving a child from their current level of performance to where the teacher gets their goals to be at the end of the year and teachers do this individually.
Q: What are your thoughts about how to best reach out to this community and encourage more involvement from parents?
A: The best way to reach out to the community is for me to provide and produce a welcoming environment at this school. I can do that by inviting community partners in, which I’ve already done with Roswell Street Baptist, Vinings Lake Church, Chick-fil-A at Windy Hill and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. As far as parent involvement, during our PTA events there will be an academic tie-in at every event. An example will be math games and literacy activities parents can use at home.
Q: What will parents notice about their childrens' school and educational experience that might be totally different from what they've known in the past?
A: What parents would notice is that their children will be asked to demonstrate their learning in different ways.
Q: How would you characterize the faculty at Powers Ferry and its preparations for a new school year and a new administration?
A: If I could use one word to describe the faculty at Powers Ferry, it would be dedicated to the kids, to the school and their craft. We have teachers here that have been here almost 30 years.
Q: What have you liked the most about being the new principal at Powers Ferry?
A: For me, what I truly like most is coming back and seeing familiar faces of the staff and the students. A lot of the students here remember me from when I was an assistant principal.
Q: How would you describe the "school spirit" here?
A: The school spirit here is off to a great start. Teachers are excited about the start of just a wonderful school year.