WINNSBORO — For new principal Dr. LaNisha Tindal, the Gordon Odyssey Academy is not the alternative. It’s the standard.
The 14-year veteran of education said her school — which includes adult education, night time classes for high school students and a behavior intervention program — has the same high standards as other schools in the district.
“We want people to understand that even though this is an alternative school, it is still a school,” Tindal said. “We make sure our students receive the same rigorous instruction as everyone else.”
Field studies, guest speakers and trips are some activities they make sure to provide GOA students so those students won’t feel as if they are missing out on a high school experience.
“Our teachers are fully certified, highly qualified and work with a curriculum coach to make sure their students receive the same instruction as those at FMS and FCHS. That way when they return, they do not miss a beat, academically,” Tindal said.
At GOA, students can take credits online using A+ software from when they turn 16 until they graduate and earn a high school diploma. Students are educated on a case by case basis.
Seventh-graders can do behavioral modification programming as part of instruction at GOA. The Star Academy is designed for eighth-graders. Evening high school is offered for juniors and seniors. All students each lunch in the same room. Otherwise the school is divided into hallways.
New Horizons students are those who are at GOA for around 45 days due to disciplinary actions. The variety of offerings give people another chance at receiving an education, provided they are willing to do their part, according to Tindal.
“The goal is to improve the high school, the community and the student graduation rate. … Adult education instructor Mr. Randy Mack, Assistant Principal Kim Suber and I looked at a lot of transcripts this summer and spoke to parents about options and the best place to educate their children,” Tindal said.
A year ago Tindal was curriculum coach at GOA, so she knew the staff and students this fall. In fact, some students had her in seventh grade. Five or six of her former students will graduate this year.
Prior to coming to GOA, she worked at the Fairfield County School District Office for two years as a curriculum specialist and secondary supervisor of English Language Arts programs. During her early years in education, she taught seventh and eighth grades at Southeast Middle School in Richland District 1. She also worked one year as assistant principal under current FES principal Dr. Tammy Martin.
“She made sure I was involved in every aspect of school. She was a big mentor and prepared me well,” Tindal said.
That perspective gave her a new outlook on why principals make certain decisions.
“Your mindset shifts and you see education from a holistic perspective,” she said. “You have to consider the entire building and how decisions impact everybody in the long run.”
A 1999 graduate of S.C. State University, Tindal always loved writing and in high school considered becoming an attorney or a journalist. But her sophomore year of college she changed her major to English education. As a teen, she wanted to be an international corporate business lawyer. Tindal loves languages and speaks Spanish.
She strongly considered business law until one day a conversation with an art professor ended with his recommendation she study education law. She kept that field in mind when she began work on her doctorate a few years ago.
Only eight people in the country have a doctorate in education administration and have a law degree, she said. So in some ways the law school goal has not left for Tindal. But she feels she found her niche helping young people learn and pursue their goals.
Always a teacher
Tindal has a master’s degree in integrated studies from Cambridge College and a Doctorate in Education Administration from S.C. State. While her position has changed, she still considers herself a teacher.
“I say, ‘Once a teacher, always a teacher.’ Even with my district office position, I was placed in a portable on a school campus and was in the classroom a great deal as I worked with teachers on instruction and ELA,” Tindal said. “As a principal, I see nothing wrong with my teaching a lesson for someone because at the end of the day I am still a teacher.”
As a classroom teacher she tried to make ELA interesting and fun for her students. She used videos, PowerPoint, class projects and smart boards to make reading interactive and multidimensional.
“In my opinion teaching is the hardest job because you have to juggle so many things and work with so many different personalities each day. You are with these children every day so it is in everyone’s interest for teachers to know their students and invest time to build relationships with them.”
She draws inspiration from her sixth grade ELA teacher, Mrs. Thompson; her orchestra instructor, Pamela Tellejohn; and from Verotta Means for showing her how to be a principal.
She holds her teachers and staff to those same high standards.
“The interventionist plays a crucial role for the young people because this is the last stop for troubled youth,” she said. “If they get into trouble here, they will be expelled from the district. Our teachers are fully certified, highly qualified and work with a curriculum coach to make sure their students receive the same instruction as those at FMS and FCHS. That way when they return, they do not miss a beat academically.”
As a high school student she was a member of the Spring Valley District Orchestra and played viola with the group at Carnegie Hall. She co-founded the Spring Valley Gospel Choir, was on student council, and was voted most talented.
Tindal played viola during her freshman year at S.C. State, but does not currently play. Her goal is to get the viola out of the case again, practice and one day play with the S.C. Philharmonic Orchestra.
Contact staff writer Kevin Boozer at email@example.com or 635-4016 ext. 14.