Cascade principal won't allow "defeat"

January 27, 1998

Cascade principal won't allow "defeat"


Staff Writer

Growing up, Johnetta Neal was the one who always made sure her seven sisters did their homework.

"I took responsibility for their learning. I've always been a natural-born teacher," she said.

Today, Neal, 50, is principal at Cascade Elementary School, a job she's had for nearly five years.

It's a challenging school because about 70 percent of her students have a parent in the military. That means there are constantly new students to make feel welcome.

When a new student arrives, Neal tells the student to report back to her on how they're getting along.

If she passes a student in the hallway and gets a thumbs-up, things are going well. If the student's thumb is shaky, she knows she has to talk with him or her.


It was not easy for Neal to be the only black principal in the predominately white Washington County schools.

Although the student body at Cascade is about 35 percent minority, the staff was all white when she arrived.

Her first week on the job, Neal was in the cafeteria when a white student looked up at her and said, "I didn't know they let black people be principals."

Neal gently told her that people can be whatever they want to be.

She sees herself as a role model for both black and white children and doesn't let racism get in her way.

"I don't believe in allowing defeat, fear and negativity. I look for what's going to lighten the load," she said.

Her staff knows she is tough. She sets high standards and hold teachers accountable for meeting them.

After the first school year, half of her teachers decided to leave the school.

She was hurt and began to doubt herself.

But after some soul-searching, Neal decided she is doing what is best for the children. She welcomed the idea of training new teachers.

"I'm a dreamer," she said.

Today, she has a great staff that she trusts.

"I end up surrounded by quality people and people who want the best for children," she said.

If a stranger came to a staff meeting, they would have a hard time picking her out as the principal, she said. Recently, she had to leave a meeting and when she returned the staff had finished the agenda.

One of her trademarks is her "ABC list."

She prioritizes her goals by putting them on the "A-list" - things to master and accomplish, the "B-list" - things to work on, and the "C-list" - things that will happen soon.

This way, she and her staff set reachable goals and can see the progress they're making.

Recently, the school got $32,000 for showing growth and leadership in the Maryland School Performance Program.

Neal did her undergraduate work at Lane College in her home state of Tennessee. She earned a pair of master's degrees - in reading at Elmira College and in administration at the University of Louisville.

Continually learning, Neal has taken courses at eight other universities.

Her family has moved a lot because of the executive job her husband, Rowan, has at Corning Inc.

The couple has three children: Rowan Jr., 24, Olly, 21, and Amanda, 17.

Even though Neal is a school administrator, she still teaches.

Recently, she taught her staff two graduate-level courses, "How to Get Parents on Your Side" and "Building Your Repertoire of Teaching Strategies."

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