Scarborough Middle School Principal Andrea Dennis, who featured in a recent Lagniappe story about improvements at local schools, was recognized by her peers across the state Wednesday.

The Alabama Association of Secondary School Principals (AASSP) named Dennis Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) “Middle School Principal of the Year” after her school improved two full letter grades on the school report cards released by state officials last month.

Less than three years after it was completely reconstituted, the school pulled its overall score up from F to a C under the direction of Dennis and her leadership team. Representatives from the AASSP and leaders from the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) surprised Dennis at a ceremony in the school’s media center Wednesday morning.

“I’m very honored that CLAS saw something in me to say that our school was transforming, and for us to be recognized because this is a team effort at our school,” she continued. “This took all of the stakeholders at our school — our teachers, our students — persevering, despite where anyone started and making sure we had high expectations and high goals.”

Dennis also said the staff at Scarborough isn’t going to settle for “anything less than that A.”

After receiving the award, Dennis credited the school’s leadership team but also its staff, students and parents. She also specifically mentioned Superintendent Chresal Threadgill and Deputy Superintendent of Academics Lakesha Brackins for allowing Scarborough flexibility to chart its own course.

“You don’t always get a superintendent who will give you the room to innovate and try new things and take risks, and have the confidence that you can do this and not stand over your shoulder every step of the way,” she said. “Mr. Threadgill is a phenomenal leader and Dr. Brackins right along with him.”

The recognition Dennis received from AASSP comes only weeks after Scarborough and several others were recognized by MCPSS officials and Threadgill for their improved scores on this year’s state report cards. Scarborough was one of seven schools that received failing grades last year but improved by two letter grades in 2018.

Scarborough, in particular, has been mired in a history of poor academic performance, which led MCPSS to reconstitute the school in 2016. As the district’s first Model Middle School, Scarborough offers more mentoring and intervention opportunities, more rigorous classes and expanded electives.

Dennis was brought on board after that decision was made to lead an entirely new staff.

“I cannot think of an administrator more deserving to be named Middle School Principal of the Year,” Threadgill said during the surprise ceremony. “From my first conversation with Mrs. Dennis, I was convinced that great things were in store for her. She is driven, she is dedicated and holds all the qualities of a transcending leader.”

Prior to taking the position at Scarborough, Dennis previously worked as an assistant principal at Theodore High School, where she was named the 2015 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year by another national school administrators organization.

Murphy High School Principal Joe Toomey, who also happens to be the vice president of AASSP, said Dennis was a great fit for a school facing the challenges Scarborough was when she was hired, adding that “she had her choice of jobs” and didn’t have to take on such a challenging role.

“She could have gone anywhere she wanted in this county and she picked this place because she loves you and she has a heart for you,” Toomey said. “That’s the kind of leader you have.”