Gerry Brooks is the Principal of Liberty Elementary. He is something of a “freshman” himself, telling us, “This will be my first year at Liberty but my 8th year as an elementary school principal.”
He says, “From the moment I was selected as principal I have been welcomed warmly by the entire Liberty family. I am a firm believer that people are the strength of any organization and I am excited to continue to build relationships with everyone in the area.”

He is “looking forward to being at a new school and getting to know the students, staff and families at Liberty.” The only thing he dreads is the same thing every man dreads on his first day in a new office, “trying to figure out what tie to wear the first day of school.”

He tells us, “My wife and I chose to move our family to Lexington 14 years ago because we saw this community as a great place to raise our children. We have been blessed to find excellent schools, supportive churches and wonderful friends. Lexington is not just a city, it’s a community that values education and is committed to providing opportunities for all kids.”

Education is a family affair at their home. His wife is a kindergarten teacher and the two have three children. Their oldest son is a junior at University of Kentucky, studying to become a physician’s assistant. Their daughter is a sophomore at BCTC working on a speech pathology degree. He tells us their youngest son “will be a senior in high school and is heavily involved in drama both at his school and with the Lexington Children’s Theatre. Faith is very important to our family. I am heavily involved in the children’s ministry at my church and enjoy participating in mission trips that allow me to serve others around the world.”

He adds, “Education has always been a calling for me. I enjoyed school as a child and that love of learning has carried on into my adult years. One of the reasons I was drawn to Liberty Elementary was to be a part of a school community that fosters such a love for learning in all students.”
“Kentucky faces the same challenges that schools throughout the nation share,” he says, “ensuring that every student is successful in school. Kentucky is unique in the innovative ways we are addressing the needs of students by changing what we teach, how we teach, and how we monitor student progress and success.”

The principal didn’t exactly take the summer off, telling us, “My summer days have been spent focusing on Liberty and the start of a great school year. I did have an opportunity to take a few days off in order to travel back to Florida for my high school reunion. I spent five days in Cocoa Beach soaking up the sun and visiting with old friends.”

The Liberty campus has not been quiet this summer either. “The school staff has been extremely busy this summer getting ready to welcome our students back on August 13. Our building has been cleaned top to bottom and we have interviewed all summer to make sure we hire the best candidates to join the great team of staff here at Liberty.”

What are a few things Hamburg residents might not know about his school? “Many people would be surprised to know that Liberty is the largest elementary school in Fayette County.”
In fact, he says, “I think the biggest challenge Hamburg faces at this time is the large number of families moving into the area.”

He is committed to Liberty being a good neighbor, telling us, “It is my goal to be proactive in communicating with our community. We want families, neighbors, businesses and organizations to feel welcome at Liberty and to partner with us both on campus and in the community at large. Involvement in your child’s education starts with a positive relationship with teachers and staff. I would advise families to get to know their child’s teachers and communicate with them as often as possible. Anyone wanting to help at school is always welcome, whether they have a student at Liberty or not. We are always looking for extra hands to read with kids, mentor students or share their life experiences with our kids.”

Like most of the people we interviewed, he is enthusiastic about the prospect of the new Hamburg area high school. “It’s exciting that our school district will be opening a sixth comprehensive high school to help reduce crowding at the high schools in our community and to carry on the district’s mission of serving all students at the highest levels.”
He doesn’t have a moment to spare in the coming days. He says, “I am committed to learning every child’s name at Liberty, which is going to be a BIG challenge. Poring through the Liberty yearbook is helping in this endeavor.”

“The most rewarding thing for me as an educator happens daily,” he says, “seeing students come to school with smiles on their faces, excited to enter the building.”

But Mr. Brooks does not shy away from sharing an embarrassing classroom memory or two, telling us about the time, “As a classroom teacher, I enjoyed hands-on activities with my students. In science I planned to give my students the opportunity to dissect frogs. To save money, I asked a friend who had an airboat to capture enough frogs for my class one weekend. In order to keep the frogs fresh, we froze them. Unfortunately they did not thaw out in time for class on Monday, so I tried to speed up the process by microwaving them. I placed each frog in a sandwich bag and tied them with bread ties. My first batch of frogs caught fire in the microwave due to the metal in the bread ties. Needless to say, I have not dissected a frog since.”

In closing our conversation, he says, “I would like to encourage our parents to make preparing for back-to-school a family event. Shop together for school supplies and begin talking about all the exciting things that your child will be learning this year. I would also encourage adults to share stories about their school experiences with their children. Liberty also has a wonderful Family Resource Center that is open all summer and available to help families prepare for the first day of school and I would encourage families to call 381-4896 for support.”

Candid Stephanie Hatfield 2


Spanish Immersion Teacher

The upcoming school year will be Stephanie Hatfield’s fourth year at Liberty, where she is a Spanish immersion teacher, but she has been a teacher in Fayette County for fifteen years. She tells us, “I’ve known since high school that I wanted to be a teacher. I love working with the students and helping them gain knowledge in not just academic areas, but in areas that can help shape their whole life. I love working in education because it gives me the opportunity to build relationships with the students and share of love of learning with them that will hopefully last a lifetime.”
Lexington is home to me. She was born in Cynthiana, KY, but adds, “Lexington is where I feel connected.”

She has two daughters. The oldest is eight and will be in the third grade at Liberty and my youngest is 21 months. The family had an “exciting summer,” visiting Las Vegas and Hilton Head. She also tutored students over the summer, and her oldest daughter is on the Andover Sharks swim team.
She says, “I always love the start of a new school year! I teach Kindergarten so there are many ‘firsts’ for the students and their families. I am so excited to meet the new students. I love to be a part of the student’s early learning experiences and see the freshness that they have for learning. The beginning of the school year is where the foundation and the love of learning begins. That is so exciting to me! The only thing I dread is going to bed early. I have become quite the night owl this summer.”

Her biggest back to school challenge is “removing the fear and worry from new Kindergarten parents’ minds. Many times the first day is harder on the parents than the students. I want to help them feel reassured that their child will be safe and in a loving environment while at school.”
“We have been very busy at Liberty preparing for the new school year. There are meetings, professional developments and planning to help start the new school year off successfully. I am a teacher representative for the SBDM council and we have also conducted many interviews over the summer to ensure that Liberty has the BEST teachers and staff.” She’s proud of the fact “That 80 percent of Liberty’s teachers and staff have at least 10 years of educational experience.”

Her advice to parents is, “get involved in your child’s education as much as you can. Get to know the school and the activities that are coming up. Be present at school when you can and get to know your child’s teacher. Finally, share back to school stories that you may have with your child to help them see that you understand how they are feeling this time of year.” She recommends, “Ask your child’s teacher to volunteer in the classroom or for other ways that you can help. I know that many parents work and their schedule does not allow time at school. Just let your child’s teacher know that you are willing to help in other ways. Our students need to see this positive connection between teachers and parents. It will let students see that we value an education. As an educator, I would like to ensure that our parents and community feel welcomed at our school. We love and value the support that they can give our school. Being in the Hamburg area, Liberty has many resources. I want our families and community to know that we welcome their help.”

“I am rewarded every year when I see the gains my students have made and how far they have grown academically and socially. I feel very proud when a former student comes up to me with a smile and a hug. That lets me know that our relationship mattered to them.”

“Like many other schools in the nation,” she says, “Kentucky schools face many challenges. We strive to make sure that all students are successful. We are also teaching the Common Core Standards, as are many other states in our nation. As teachers, it is a challenge to make sure that we teach lessons and activities that align with the standards. We also need these activities to be rigorous and engaging for the students.”

She welcomes the forthcoming new high school, saying, “Many schools in Lexington are very crowded. This would offer students more space to learn and could provide state of the art technology and learning resources. This is also a wonderful opportunity for our community to support learning I think that Hamburg’s biggest asset is our community resources and our growing population. We have many families who love living in this area because of the resources and schools. I love it that there are so many ways that we can support learning and our schools right here in the area. There are many opportunities for outside learning and field trips to enhance our educational experiences.”

Like her fellow education professionals, she agrees about the traffic in Hamburg. “I think the biggest challenge is that since we are growing so quickly, we need to find ways to improve the traffic. It can be crazy at times!”

In closing, she tells us, “Being a teacher, I feel that I am a part of Lexington’s community and future. I am proud of our city and glad that it has so many opportunities for our children. It also means something else to me, BIG BLUE NATION! GO CATS!”

Candid Mike Jones 1

Crawford Middle School

Mike Jones, Principal of Crawford Middle, is in his sixth year at Crawford Middle School and his sixteenth year in the Fayette County School District. Previously, he was an Associate Principal at Henry Clay High School. He tells us he “grew up in Paris, 20 minutes outside Lexington, so Lexington’s always been a home away from home. Now, I’ve lived here my entire adult life. I want Lexington to be successful. This is where I’m raising my kids [he has a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old]. I want it to be a community that everybody can be proud of.” His family took a “staycation here in Lexington,” taking the kids out to the lake.

“I look forward to the newness and excitement with students coming back to school,” he says, admitting, “ the thing I probably dread the most is the traffic, which makes it a little harder getting around town.”

Like all the educators we talked to, he says, “The biggest back to school challenge is time – trying to get everything accomplished with getting students and teachers back in and on the same page.” But it’s all worth it, “The most rewarding thing is seeing students you’ve put a lot of time into, [when they] come back and saying thank you for making a difference.”

His advice for parents is, “The main thing is just be involved. Involvement can be on so many levels. Being involved doesn’t necessarily mean being in the school every day. It may mean making sure your child has breakfast at home, making sure their homework is done, or that their permission slips are turned in. The best advice I have for parents is to just have good communication with the school.”

“The largest challenge in our education system is financial resources. We need individuals in the community who not only understand but also believe in our education system here in Fayette County who will be advocates for being involved.”

“Families without children have a very important role as well because our students of today are leaders of tomorrow – everyone has a vested interest in our school system because we are training those who will be taking care of us later. Additionally, as a Title I school we are always looking for resources for our students. You can be involved with your church or civic group and still be involved in the school system by helping volunteer, by donating coats or shoes, or by just being an advocate.

He eagerly anticipates the addition of a new high school to our neighborhood, saying “It’s great. I’m a huge supporter of it. Lexington definitely needs another high school. Student enrollment has grown across the district. One of my children attends a high school that is crowded right now. The new high school will be in a good area. And, we’ll be able to make high schools much more manageable size-wise.”

His most embarrassing/funny classroom memory, he admits he brought on himself. “I challenged some students to a fundraising goal. For the winners, I took them out in a limo out to lunch and as a result of the challenge had to dress up as a member of the band KISS in full makeup.”
Crawford Middle is committed to innovation. Principal Jones tells us, “I’ve worked with the leadership of our school to look at student data and find new and innovative ways to engage our students. We found that there are a number of students on an advanced track and we weren’t doing a good job of providing services to students that really needed to be pushed forward. As a result, we are starting something new this school year with an advanced curriculum for a select group of 6th and 7th graders who have already shown to have mastered standards for their grade level. It will be innovative, use a lot of technology, and be project based learning.” Crawford also has “a certified art gallery in our building, part of the LexArts Gallery Hop,” and consistently “brings a lot of outside things. For example, last year we brought in dance troupes and ballet.