A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Graves County principal Janet Throgmorton goes the extra mile to ensure students can continue learning

By Jacob Perkins
Kentucky Teacher

Three years ago, Principal Janet Throgmorton of Fancy Farm Elementary (Graves County) was looking for a way to save her district some money while addressing one of its most pressing needs.

Like many districts throughout Kentucky, Graves County faced a shortage of bus drivers and was having a tough time finding substitute drivers to fill those seats. Being a firm believer in field trips, Throgmorton decided to step up and obtain her commercial driver’s license so she could get behind the wheel and transport her students.

“I know my community well and how to get around,” she said. “I grew up driving farm equipment.”

Throgmorton would fill in as a substitute driver for her district when needed and saved money on field trips when her schedule would allow her to drive the bus. If she drove, the school only needed to pay for the mileage driven, she said.

Janet Throgmorton, principal at Fancy Farm Elementary (Graves County), takes a photo with her students before driving them home from school. Throgmorton has filled in on the afternoon routes of one of the school’s bus drivers while the driver is out due to COVID-19. (Submitted photo, via Kentucky Teacher)

She admits the reactions were funny when her school community found out she was driving a school bus. Often teased by her students about her driving or the routes she would take, Throgmorton wasn’t shy about giving it back to them.

“The kids critique my driving, but that’s just typical of kids,” she said. “They are sure to tell me that I don’t do it like their regular driver does it, but I tell them they don’t do everything the way I want them to all the time either, so we’re just going to be gracious to each other.”

While the back and forth was all in good fun, Throgmorton has found herself behind the wheel of the bus more frequently as of late.

The Graves County school district has been struck by COVID-19, as have many districts across the state. According to Superintendent Matthew Madding, as of early January, the district has had 59 staff test positive for the virus. Of those 59 positive cases are two of Throgmorton’s four regular bus drivers.

“It’s been difficult,” Throgmorton said of the toll COVID-19 has taken on the school. She has filled in on the afternoon routes of one driver during their absence.

“The kids want to know where they are and when they’re coming back,” she said. “Those things are difficult for kids to understand.”

Stepping up in times of need is nothing new for Throgmorton. During her 25-year tenure with the school, she believes she has taught every subject and every grade, as she has filled in as a substitute when the school has been affected by teacher shortages or struggled to find substitutes because of the pandemic.

“I have helped in the cafeteria because we’re short cafeteria staff,” she said. “If we want to be here, we have to cover the spots.”

One characteristic of a great school leader is a willingness to do whatever is necessary for their students, and Throgmorton is an example of an outstanding leader in Graves County, said Madding.

“She loves her students, and she is willing to go to great lengths to help and support them,” he said. “What we have seen from her during the pandemic is just a continuation of the great work she does year in and year out for the students of Fancy Farm.”

Throgmorton doesn’t consider the extra work she does as special, rather what she needs to do to educate students. What she does consider special, however, is her local community coming together to support Fancy Farm when the school has needed it most.

Many local churches and civic groups have reached out to provide masks for students, and parents and local businesses have donated cleaning supplies to the school. Throgmorton said the selflessness of the community has helped tremendously, but what she has been most impressed with is the willingness of community members to follow health and safety guidelines.

“We just asked that you wear a mask and you socially distance, and you don’t go places in large gatherings, and if you just do those things that will help us stay in school,” she said. “Honestly, they did. You know, I don’t really like wearing the mask, either, but if it means my kids can be in school, then it’s worth it.”

Prior to Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order that suspended in-person instruction effective Nov. 23, and his subsequent recommendation that school districts not resume in-person classes until Jan. 11, Graves County operated under a hybrid model of instruction for 10 weeks, using both in-person and virtual learning.

Throgmorton said Fancy Farm took all the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of the students and staff in the building, and even allowed parents to schedule tours of the school to ease any concerns they may have about sending their child into the building.

“When we started, the kids never missed a beat,” she said. “I think they wanted to come enough that they were willing to do whatever it took.”

Fancy Farm began the school year by teaching students how to use their Chromebooks and all the online tools they may need in case they needed to transition back to virtual learning.

Once that transition came, it caught no one off guard, said Throgmorton.

“When it was time to go on NTI (non-traditional instruction), they took their Chromebook home, we sent their workbooks home, and we had class every day like we do at school,” she explained. “The teachers prepared schedules so parents would know when class times were, and they recorded those class times so if students couldn’t be on they could watch it later. I feel confident that learning continued.”

The past several months have been an incredible challenge, but Madding is excited to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. He is aware, however, that there still will be challenging days ahead, but says Graves County is in excellent hands with strong leaders like Throgmorton.

“Mrs. Throgmorton is one of 11 outstanding principals in Graves County,” he said. “The work that this group has done collectively and individually to ensure our students have continued to receive a first-class education throughout the pandemic is nothing short of amazing. Our students and community are blessed to have these great leaders who love their students.”

As for Throgmorton, she said it’s easy to take in-person instruction for granted, but the pandemic has reminded her just how important every day of instruction is inside the school building.

“When you know that those days may be few and far between, I think you make sure every minute is valued and used to the best of your ability,” she said.

This story first appeared in Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.

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