After 28 years in education, Berea Community Principal Donna Lovell is closing a chapter in her book of life.
The Madison County native plans to retire this May following the end of the school year.
But Lovell has always been a Pirate. Her first chapter began as a kindergarten student who attended Berea Community Schools. She also graduated in 1986 from the same school she would later became principal of.
In addition to always being a Pirate, education and Berean life orbited her life, like the Sun orbiting the Earth. Her mother came from Oceana, West Virginia, to attend Berea College, where she met her husband, a townie who attended Berea High School.
Lovell's grandfather worked 30-plus years for the Berea College Facilities while her grandmother worked in the Berea College Laundry before becoming a full-time mother/grandmother. Despite her family's ties to the Berea education community, her mother was the only person she knew that had a college degree, until her father received his associate's from Eastern Kentucky University.
"In our house, we were given books and the expectation of attending college," Lovell said. "That never faltered from either of my parents."
Her high school counselor, Helen Connelly, knew what Lovell was meant to do before she knew herself. Each time Lovell would visit with Connelly to discuss her future, Connelly would gently say to her, "So you are going into education," and each time, Lovell would tell her no. She would come up with something such as communication, medicine, or just about anything other than education.
But one day during her senior year, Connelly handed her an application for the Kentucky Teaching Scholarship, basically telling her that's what she would be doing after high school.
"I took the application, filled it out, and when I received the scholarship, I realized that it was a full scholarship for me to attend the University of Kentucky for four years. In return, I would teach for four years in the state of Kentucky," Lovell said. "Once I entered the education program at UK, I realized that Mrs. Connelly was right all along. Education was my place, and I loved every moment of my undergrad program."
Lovell went on to graduate with her Bachelor's Degree in secondary social science education from UK in May of 1990. But she soon learned that there was an abundance of social studies teachers and not many openings. Lovell said she applied to every school district within three hours of Berea in hopes of finding a teaching position.
But just as she was thinking about going back to UK to begin graduate classes, the phone rang. It was former Madison County Superintendent Shannon Johnson, who offered her a long-term substitute position at Madison Southern High School, which turned into seven wonderful years teaching geography, U.S. history and psychology to some spectacular students, according to Lovell.
After teaching at MSHS, Lovell had the opportunity to be the Berea Community School's counselor for sixth-grade and up. It was there that she realized she had an interest in administration. Two years after Lovell started her counselor position, the district hired a second person to take over the counseling needs at the middle school.
Lovell served as a counselor for a total of seven years before being hired at the district level as director of district-wide services, which included attendance, assessment, academics, grants and everything else under the sun for grades K-12.
Another seven years after that, Lovell was hired as the principal of Berea Community middle and high schools, where she has happily been located since.
During all of her time spent teaching, being a counselor and becoming director, Lovell received her Master's in secondary school counseling from Eastern Kentucky University and then returned to get a Rank 1 in school leadership, which included her principalship, instructional supervisor, director of pupil personnel and superintendent certifications.
Throughout her time teaching and being an administrator, many things have changed. As she was entering the education field, legislators had passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) that brought in state specific standards and assessments. Lovell said while the state assessment system has changed from KIRIS to CATS to KPREP, the most significant changes have been in the importance of social/emotional education, technology and college/career readiness for all students.
"When I began teaching, we did not have cell phones and social media, and we are phasing out hard copy textbooks. Our teachers have always been responding to the changes with dedication and hard work," Lovell said. "That is true now, and 28 years ago. And our students are still looking to succeed, and each can do so with assistance and modeling from adults in our schools."
And while technology and education are always ever-changing, one thing has always stayed the same for Lovell.
"I have been blessed with having so many students, faculty, staff and parents cross my path over the years," she said. "I have so much pride in seeing the success of students, and now, even the success of their children," Lovell said "I can say that my profession has let me lead a life full of celebrations and excitement, and (I) feel that I made a small difference along the way."
Her husband John, of 26 years, taught and coached in the Richmond City Schools and Madison County Schools for 27 years. Together, they have three children. Meghan, 24, who attends the cosmetology program at Carl D Perkins Vocational Training Center; JD, 20, who attends Transylvania University with a double major in theater and accounting; and Emy, 18, who currently attends Berea Community High School.
Lovell has received awards during her career, such as Kentucky Counselor Leader of the Year in 1999 and the BCHS Alumni Award in 2013. But her accomplishments aren't always plaques or awards.
"My accomplishments are measured in the students that transitioned successfully from one grade to the next, the teachers that tried a new instructional strategy and were excited, the parents that felt their child was cared for each day, and the knowledge that I was just a little girl living on "Bobtown" when I began at Berea Community Schools, but that I was able to achieve a goal of being a part of the school's success -- even if for just a short amount of time. And … of course taking that scholarship application from Mrs. Connelly was definitely a bright point to start it all."
Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.