Amy Russell says she has been virtually every campus and school district stakeholder from a parent volunteer to classroom teacher and now principal.
Russell is the newly installed principal at Travis Magnet Elementary. She went through Odessa College and earned a bachelor’s of business administration in accounting degree at University of Texas Permian Basin. She also earned a master’s in educational leadership from UTPB.
She and her husband, Jeff, have two grown children.
“I was director of internal auditing/accounting at Onetravel.com. When my kids entered school, I just knew I couldn’t keep up that pace and I wanted to go check out where they were going, so thankfully, I was able to quit my job,” Russell recalled.
Volunteering grew into subbing, tutoring, teaching full time and ultimately administrative jobs.
Coming in as a parent in 2002, Russell helped teachers cut out laminated paper, sat with students, read to students, tutored, substituted for a year and taught for four years.
“I loved watching teachers and their relationships with the kids. When I small-group tutored, I said, ‘I love this, but can I do it with a whole classroom of students?’ So I subbed one entire year at Dowling (Elementary). I went every day ready to teach … The office would tell me, ‘Oh, the sixth-grade teacher called in. She’s sick.’ ‘The kindergarten teacher called. She’s sick,’ so I just came every day ready to work somewhere,” Russell said.
“And it was fun. It was really fun, so by the time I subbed a whole entire year, I knew I could do it,” she added.
Seeing teachers in action and substituting at all those grade levels helped her learn the art of teaching.
“The teachers would leave true lesson plans. They wouldn’t leave just busy work for kids, so I got to see how a lesson plan worked,” Russell said.
She enrolled in the certification program at Region 18 Education Service Center in April, took her certification test in May and was hired in June at Dowling.
“That’s the only campus I wanted to be at because that’s where my kids were at. That was 2008,” Russell said.
Technically when she moved to Ector Middle School, Russell said she was an assistant principal, but she was an instructional services director. She served in the same capacity at Bonham Middle School, but Principal James Ramage knew she wanted to move up to principal, so he acted as her mentor.
Ramage is now principal at Falcon Early College High School, soon to be called Odessa Collegiate Academy. He said he is very proud of Russell.
“She definitely has a heart for it; highly motivated; very positive. The parents will like her a lot. (She’s) always just super positive, so I think she’ll just do fantastic,” Ramage said.
Russell said she started looking for principal jobs before she went to Bonham.
“My role at Ector let me do many of the things that a principal does — hiring, growing teachers, working with the community, working with students, working with counselors, state testing so the ISD role I think is a perfect role if you’re not carrying the full principalship on your shoulders,” she said.
At Bonham, Ramage would tell her to think about certain things when she became principal, sit in on conversations with parents and police.
“I did do more discipline in my one year at Bonham than my three years at Ector because it was purposed that I would be starting to apply for principal, so I needed more on that side of it,” Russell said.
Under a reconfiguration approved by the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees, Zavala and Pease are prekindergarten through second and Travis and Noel are grades three through five.
Zavala and Noel were both in their fifth year of improvement required under state accountability standards. If the campuses hadn’t come off the list, they would have faced closure or the Texas Education Commissioner would have appointed a board of managers over the whole district.
Travis is paired with Zavala Elementary and Pease with Noel.
Russell said she’s good with campuses that need extra support.
Tanya Galindo was the principal at Travis before she moved to Zavala. Russell said Travis had five distinctions from the state two years ago.
“This year, now that everyone’s in a spot I think it’s poised to really just take off,” Russell said.
She estimated that Travis will have about 411 students this year. A quarter of those students come on a magnet students, which means they come from outside the neighborhood and stay for the after-school magnet program.
Travis was a magnet in the 1990s with science, math and communications.
“Over time, I think that has kind of gone the way of most technology, but they kept their math and science magnet so that’s what we’re looking to beef up,” Russell said.
“… We are working with (Chief Innovation Officer) Jason Osborne and (Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction) Dr. Lilia Nanez to head the campus toward the STEAM or STEM, so we can get teachers on the path to make this become (STEAM) like Hays,” Russell said.
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math and STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
Approximately a year ago when ECISD was talking about making Travis a grade three through five campus, “I totally turned and said to my friend (and said), ‘I would kill for a campus like that,’ and she reminded me that I said that,” Russell said.
“So when this came open, I said, ‘Oh wow. I did say that a year ago,’” she added.
The good part is that every student takes state tests, but the part that makes her nervous is that every student tests.
“You have to kind of weigh that in the balance, that every single student counts at least two times in state accountability, so you do have to know 100 percent of your students — their strengths and weaknesses,” Russell said.
With the campuses being paired for accountability, if Travis does well, Zavala does well and if Travis goes to improvement required, Zavala does, too.
Her official start date is July 1. Retired Principal Martha Mitchell came in to help with the transition in April. Lisa Duncan, secondary mathematics coordinator, stepped in earlier this year, but was only able to stay for a limited time.
Russell said in her job interview for Travis that she’s been every stakeholder.
“I’ve been the mom, I’ve been the parent. I’ve been the community member. I’ve been the business owner. I’ve been the classroom teacher. I’ve been the support facilitator. I’ve been the AP (assistant principal). Now I feel like I’m ready for the chair,” she said.
Former Principal and district official Joretha Lee knows Russell from when she was PTA president.
“Amy was the PTA president at Dowling when I was the principal there. She also tutored some of my students in math in the upper grades and she subbed for me when I was the director of HR over subs,” Lee said in an email. “I encouraged Amy to go back to school to finish her degree because she did such a great job with tutoring our students and working as a sub. She took my advice and completed her degree. She became a teacher and moved her way up as an AP and now she will be a principal. She followed her dream.”
At Travis, Russell said she is supposed to have 20 classroom teachers, plus support staff.
“We do have openings, so I’m competing with everyone else, but I’ll win. One of my strengths is telling the story of where I’m at,” telling prospective employees what’s good about a campus and what makes it unique, Russell said.
“Public education is competing with other charters more and more. We have to be that school of choice. We have to say why our campuses are better. So long as I believe in ECISD I will be here. The day I quit believing it, it will break my heart, but I do believe and I believe our district is getting better and better …,” she added.