Test scores and morale were low, but in the 2½ years Walker has been at Tapp, former PTSA president Laurie Vesper says the transformation there has been incredible.
“Principals come and go,” Vesper said. “As a former teacher, I have a lot of experience with principals. She is very approachable.”
Walker admitted there was a “perception” problem when she started at the school in 2012, but she says she saw it as an opportunity to see how far she and the staff could take the school.
“That’s been the challenge I’ve put out to the staff since I came here: Create an environment to be successful academically, to set (the students) on a path to the future,” Walker said.
To show their appreciation, the PTSA nominated Walker for the Georgia PTA Outstanding Principal Award, and to her astonishment, she became of one only six winners in the state to receive the award in July.
“I was very surprised. I was on my way to Florida with my family when I got word I was going to be recognized,” she said.
The Cobb Board of Education honored her at its most recent meeting, and Angela Huff, the district’s chief of staff, said Walker was “making a positive difference at Tapp.” Huff named several initiatives Walker has started at her school, including her open door policy — which allows parents to visit with her from 8 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday — her wide range of communication tools to engage more parents and programs such as a non-bullying campaign.
Powder Springs Mayor Pat Vaughn said Walker reached out to her when she first arrived at Tapp to build a relationship with City Hall as part of an effort to get the community more involved with the school.
“The working relationship I’ve had at Tapp has been so strong, and it’s given me a deep appreciation for each and every student at Tapp,” Vaughn said, adding the award “has not gone to a more deserving person.”
Vaughn highlighted Walker’s Tapp Pride Program, where teachers nominate students who best demonstrate the characteristics of respect, responsibility, integrity and accomplishment. Those students have breakfast with Vaughn and are recognized by the city.
Walker started teaching in Cobb in 1996 at Oakwood, which was the district’s former alternative school. While she didn’t envision herself in that kind of environment, the former Spanish teacher said the small size of the school enabled her to learn about the business and planning side of working at a school.
She also wanted to be able to relate to Oakwood’s students.
“A lot of the students at Oakwood were disengaged from the educational environment,” she said. “So they came to Oakwood for a second chance. It was very rewarding. If you could teach the Oakwood students, you could teach anywhere.”
She was inspired to go into administration to help the growing Hispanic population successfully integrate into the American school system, she said.
One of the challenges of being a principal, she said, is some students don’t come to class academically prepared and may not have the support systems they need at home to be successful. That’s why she said it’s so important for the school to foster the drive to want to perform well in school.
“If we don’t capture and engage the students at the middle school level and help them be successful, when they get to high school, they’re going to struggle and they may never be able to be successful.”
Walker said she couldn’t think of a principal who wouldn’t say the best part of their job is the children. “The best part is the kids. Seeing their excitement and their joy, even to help them through … difficult times.”