Principal guides higher achievement at Piedmont I.B. Middle School

This school is much more than meets the eye. As you walk through the hallways and offices of Piedmont I.B. Middle School, there is an ordinary nature to it. Painted brick walls are covered with the works of students and faculty alike. The floors are made of tiles so faded it’s hard to tell how old they are.

But it is an academic school of excellence and is known nation-wide as an example for what an urban middle school should be. Thanks to Principal Jackie Barone, 39, the school has the potential to reach even higher achievements.

“We go for it. We this have philosophy of ‘Why not?,’ ‘Let’s try it!’ ” she said.

Her efforts as principal started in 2013 under the interim tag. After the former Principal Dee Gardner retired, she was named as the interim and never gave up the position.

Barone said Gardner “is still very much a part of our lives. She’s always just a phone call away, a text away, she’s always thinking about us.”

Gardner was principal at Piedmont when it was awarded the honor of being a National Blue Ribbon School in 2011, which means that the school has made strong improvements while 40 percent or more of the student body is at a disadvantage. Also in 2011, she was awarded the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership, an honor that has only been bestowed upon fewer than 40 principals in the nation, according to the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

She led Piedmont from an under-performing school to one that is known for its high achievement. According to North Carolina A.B.C. reports from the 1999 school year, Piedmont was ranked 11th out of 13 middle schools in CMS. By the 2004 school year, she had turned Piedmont into a School of Excellence and exceeded growth projections.

Barone said she knew that she had to keep up with the high standards set by Gardner.

“There is never a day where I don’t have stress because the bar is set so high,” she said. “I don’t want to be the person that messes that up.”

But during Barone’s three years as principal, Piedmont has stayed towards the top in terms of being one of, if not the best middle schools in CMS, according to Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) reports.

“We focus on the kids,” Barone said. “Every decision, and this is something that Dee embedded in all of us, is everything comes down to what is best for the kids, what is best for the child.”

Barone is not running the school alone, though. She’ll be the first one to tell you how great her staff is.

“We have the best teachers in the world,” she said. “It is a bunch of teachers working together to make things happen.”

One of them, Ronny Reddig, an 8th grade social studies teacher, was recognized as Magnet Teacher of the Year.

“Piedmont is like no other,” said Dean of Students Rolando Parkins, as he discussed former students returning to Piedmont. “At least I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school that’s so connected and has kids coming back like every other day.”

Barone has also noticed something of her own when former students return.

“We get kids and parents that come back all the time and say ‘Oh my gosh! My kid is doing great because of you guys!’ We hear that on a rather regular basis.”

A return trip to Piedmont cannot be completed without a visit to the school’s guidance counselor, and co-host of the Delaney and Barone Morning Show, Marie Delaney.

“We got the idea for the Delaney and Barone show as a way to inform kids of what was going on and what they needed to know for the weeks ahead, but also to still have some fun with it,” said Delaney.

Despite recognition received by the school over the past few years, Barone said all of the awards and prizes that she and the school win cannot compare with the feeling that one gets from taking a visit to Piedmont I.B.

“We have this kind of perfect storm,” she said. “It’s the right combination of things working together. It’s almost impossible to put it in words. You walk in this building, and you feel it.”

This story was written as a part of the Charlotte Observer’s high school journalism Explorer Post.