These days when you call Thomson Elementary School, you'll find the doctor is in. Principal Beth Newton received her educational administrative doctorate degree on May 23 from Georgia Southern University. The graduation ceremony will be in December.
"It was kind of weird for me at first to say ‚ÄòDr. Newton.' But it is kind of nice to hear people acknowledge it, and to be introduced that way, because I worked hard for it," Dr. Newton said.
Beth Newton talks with students in the cafeteria at Thomson Elementary School.
Four years ago, Dr. Newton began taking courses from Georgia Southern's program in Augusta. After taking classes for two years, she began writing her dissertation on Georgia House Bill 1187: the A Plus Education Reform Act of 2000.
Dr. Newton surveyed 400 elementary principals across the state, asking how the accountability and reform affected their role as principal. She received responses from 187 principals. Then she desegregated the data, did research on similar bills in other states, and wrote her thesis.
"I have to say that I had a lot of support from my family to do this‚Ä¶My husband did a lot of stuff, he was like a mother and a father, because I had to be away at school, and set aside time to write and do research," Dr. Newton said. "Even my extended family helped because it takes a lot of work to fold and staple the surveys and stamp the envelopes. My children and in-laws did a lot with that."
Seeing their mother in the role of a student impressed Dr. Newton's children. Her son, Trey, is in college, and told Dr. Newton he was having trouble writing a 10-page report. Then he remembered his mother wrote a 200-page thesis, and that encouraged him to continue.
From her research, Dr. Newton learned the biggest improvement in the quality of education in Georgia has come from assessments.
"You hear a lot of complaining about how we test so much, but principals see it is a valuable tool if it's used correctly," Dr. Newton said. "That doesn't mean the test itself was important, but the act of taking the test and tracking student's progress, and knowing that they are learning."
Dr. Newton will remember this as she's working her first year as a principal. Receiving her degree and then being promoted from assistant principal couldn't have been timed better.
"I was glad I didn't get the promotion while I was working on (my dissertation); now I can concentrate on Thomson Elementary and doing a good job with that," she said.