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MOUNT WASHINGTON - After 33 years a legacy has come to an end. And during that time, the educator has seen many, many changes.
As of July 1, Bonita Franklin, who is the founding principal of Eastside Middle School,will be retired.
“It’s a very difficult job, but I have been blessed to love it,” she said. “I am going to retire and continue in another career with kids. My heart’s in Bullitt County.”
She said she may sub as a teacher and become more involved with her church youth group at Southeast Christian.
“I’m open to God and where he will lead me,” Franklin said.
A graduate of the University of Louisville, she has an undergraduate certification in LBD/special education and a Master’s in guidance and counseling with a specialist degree in administration from Western Kentucky University.
“I was a very shy, naïve and withdrawn little girl who hated crowds but God equips,” she said.
Franklin began her career at Mount Washington Middle school in 1981 as a math and language arts teacher for six years. Then she moved on to Maryville Elementary School as a counselor for six years and her career continued to progress.
She became the assistant principal at Hebron Middle school for two years and then in 1993 she was the principal at Brooks Elementary for two years.
Soon after, she became the principal at MWMS for 10 years before branching out to become the principal of a new school—Eastside.
Franklin vivdly remembers its beginnings in 2005.
“I was the only employee and I came over to this field and just prayed,” she recalled.
And so do her colleagues.
Cheri Lineweaver, who worked alongside Franklin for 13 years as her assistant principal at MWMS and Eastside, said she’ll never forget when Franklin gave each of her teachers and staff an apple filled with the foundation of the building.
“The first day we walked into the Eastside building it wasn’t even complete,” said the Brooks principal. “We thought about the future and what the would would be… We took all the teachers coming from MWMS and gave them a piece of the foundation. Bonita said ‘We are the community, we are building and we are the roots, we’re starting here.’”
She said Franklin’s ability to foster community in the school has made it successful.
“People feel like they are part of a true community there,” Lineweaver said. “The students helped choose the name, mascot and colors.”
Robb Smith, former director of secondary education at Bullitt County Public Schools, echoed Lineweaver’s thoughts.
“She’s gives kids a chance and a voice at their school,” he said. “Kid’s have ownership at the school. They’re proud of where they go to school. It’s the culture she’s created that’s what I like when I walk into Eastside.”
Smith first met Franklin while he was the principal at North Oldham Middle School. His school and EMS had been named “Schools to Watch” the previous year.
Smith said Franklin has promoted a lot of growth in her position and has set a “model of school culture in Bullitt County.”
“Bonita is a master of innovative programs. She has put a stamp on (Eastside) that is totally unique. She is a wonderful visionary principal,” he said.
Smith also said Franklin is skilled in getting people to work together for a common cause.
“She is adept at knowing who is meant to be there on staff and who cares about kids. She can take all components from different personalities of teachers, parents and students and combine them all in one direction,” he said.
And Lineweaver agrees.
“She is an extremely strong instructional leader,” said the Louisville resident. “Her staff will do just about anything for her… she’s just that kind of person. She listens to what they have to say.”
Lineweaver said Franklin was a “great mentor” to her. She taught her how to encourage people, run a school building, write grants and how to walk that fine line between being friendly and disciplinary.
“The kids loved that she was real and was very approachable. She talked to them and loved being with them, but was firm with them when she needed to be,” she said.
Lineweaver said it will be hard to replace Franklin next year as she leaves “one of the best schools in the state of Kentucky.”
“I can’t wait to see what she does next, I know it will be fabulous,” she said.
But before she takes her next steps, Franklin reflected on her experience and how education has changed over the years.
Franklin said teaching has gone to a “much higher level” today than when she first started.
“Before we bascially got a textbook and classroom… now it has evolved into such a profession involving how the brain works and how adolescence affects learning and disabilties,” she said.
Franklin acknowledged that change is hard, but focusing on the positives will help make it easier.
“Do your best and change takes place around you,” she said. “There will always be new things to learn and new kids coming in.”
Franklin said she thinks the role of a principal “is a delicate balance between business manager, counselor and mother.
“You are always looking for the good in your kids,” she said.
Though she has been in an administration role for about 15 years now, Franklin said she most enjoyed being in the classroom because that’s when she was able to develop the “strongest realtionships” with her kids.
She said she was always looking for a way to “advance” her career to the next stage, however, she never lost focus of what her passion was.
In fact, she was considering taking a position at the BCPCS central office several years ago, but realized she wouldn’t be interacting with children everyday so he decided not to take it.
Having students leave the school as “better people as well as smarter,” Franklin said, has been the most fulfilling part for her during her career.
“I can’t imagine me life without being surrounded by thousands of middle school kids,” she said.
It’s no surprise that one of her favorite many (though she has numerous) involved kids—serving students while on rollerskates at Brooks.
Though EMS has received many awards and recognitions during Franklin’s term, most notably being named a distinguished school in 2013-14, but the most memorable for her was receiving the 2009 Making a Difference Beacon of Hope award five years ago. EMS was recognized by the Learning Disabilities Association of Kentucky for their efforts in educating children with special needs.
“We really challenge our children to succeed in a regular classroom,” she said.
Her advise to her successor: “never lose sight when dealing with people—little or big.”
“We all come with baggage and if we lose sight of focus, you’ve lost your purpose” she said.
Franklin said Troy Wood, the new EMS principal, is a “intelligent student-driven leader” and she has no doubt he will build on what she has started.
“I built the foundation, he’s going to take it to the next phase,” she said. “It’s going to be a skyscraper.”
BCPS Superintendent Keith Davis said the impact Franklin has had on EMS and district will leave lasting effects.
“(Eastside) will continue to be an excellent school because she has intentionally built a sustainable system, the foundation of which is a group of teachers who generally share her philosophy about education. She has also built up a level of expectation among the parents at Eastside, so if it begins to slide, there would be a howl of protest,” he said.
Davis Franklin has always been a great example of “excellence, high standards and professionalism.”
But most importantly is, “her idea that children are at the center of what we do rather than what is easiest or most convenient for adults,” he said.