Chaffin fulfilling her wish at Russell
BY MATTHEW SPARKS
Reprinted with permission from the editor of THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
Anna Chaffin looked at the calendar hoping it wasn’t some elaborate joke.
It was April 1, 2014, when she made the short walk to the school library, anticipating that this would be the day the school she loves would be removing the interim tag from her job title.
Chaffin got her wish. She was named Russell’s principal, the same place where she roamed the halls three decades earlier as a student. The love, passion, and excitement for her alma mater is something she is very serious about.
“My office is what used to be the teacher’s lounge,” Chaffin said. “My family is still here. This is home. With the exception of Ruthie Lynd, who is phenomenal, there might not be a better person who loves Russell as I do. … I love coming to work. I have been blessed.”
The 1984 Russell graduate attended Morehead State University. Where she played basketball for the Eagles and received a master’s degree in counseling.
“I believe I was afforded that opportunity because of the great education that I got in high school,” said Chaffin, who worked as a graduate assistant in the women’s basketball office when she got a phone call that would change the direction of her career path.
“It just so happened that I was working in the office one day,” Chaffin said, “and Connie Greene, the head coach of the Ashland Kittens, who was also a former Eagle, called and said there was a science teaching job opening at the high school. Do you know anybody that has graduated from the program that would be interested? And I said, ‘Speaking.’” She started her teaching career at Ashland Blazer. After two years, her former high school coach, Mary Robinson, made contact about a position at Russell. She interviewed in July 1992 and has been there ever since.
Chaffin was a science teacher for 10 years before becoming the guidance counselor. She worked as the assistant principal under Allen Thompson for a few school years then became the interim principal when he left in 2013.
Chaffin admits she never saw herself as an administrator.
“I knew that I wanted to work in sports, and I could see myself coaching because that’s really all I knew,” Chaffin said. “It just so happened that I was working with my coach, Loretta Marlow, in college and we were working out schedules. She made the statement about what subjects did you like in school and I remember saying science and that’s really how it played out. Once I got into those classes I loved it. God just kept opening doors and I continued to walk through them.”
The first day she stepped back on the Russell campus was a momentous occasion for Chaffin. She took the time to appreciate the gravity of the moment.
“It’s humbling,” Chaffin said. “The first day I walked across the parking lot, I cried like a baby because I realized the magnitude of what I was getting ready to do. I was so humbled to be a part of that. It’s not lost on me. This school, when I think about what I was afforded academically and athletically, I wouldn’t be where I’m at had it not been for what I was given through the Russell Independent School district. It’s cliché, but I’m living proof that the system works.”
Chaffin has found that her coaching background can have a direct correlation with her administrative work as a principal. Both can influence students in similar ways.
“My lens is a little bit different now that I’ve become the principal,” Chaffin said. “There’s no greater way to impact children than to be a teacher or a coach. … But what I found is that the lessons that I learned dealing with kids, dealing with parents and dealing with all the logistics of being a head coach feed everything that I’ve been able to do here. You have to do scheduling and you have to meet with parents, take care of kids and manage teachers. It’s a great fit.”
Chaffin constantly raves about her excellent staff and the teachers who excel daily in their classrooms. One of the many aspects of her job, like a coach calculating the right starting lineup, is finding the right teacher and who will work best with a particular group or class.
Chaffin believes she has the right team in place and lets them do their job without any interference.
“I know that they are bringing their A-game every single day,” Chaffin said. “So, when education standards change, we make them aware, then I get out of their way and let them do their job because that’s what they are good at.”
“I want to try to take the stuff off their plate so that they can do their job,” she added. “To me, there is no greater compliment than when a staff member says, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that happened today.’ Check a box. I’ve done my job because they were able to focus on teaching and focus on their kids.”
Mandy Layne, a resource teacher at Russell, is grateful for Chaffin’s hands-off approach.
“She trusts us to be able to control and direct our classroom,” Layne said. “It’s greatly appreciated that you’re not micro-managed
and you are able to handle the students from day to day.”
Chaffin loves having daily interaction with her 663 high-school students. It’s vital to her that she knows everyone by name and that they know their principal supports what they do.
“That’s important to me,” Chaffin said. “That hey, my principal knows my name. If I can tweet out something that they have done or a snapshot of a picture, that lets them know what they are doing is important to me.
“I hope they know I care about them. I’ve made the statement sometimes, too, that I’m going to be in your business because I care about you. It’s not because I dislike you, it’s because I do like you. I want you to make a better choice. I like you, I may not like the choice you made.”
Chaffin’s favorite part of her day is lunchtime and it has nothing to do with food. She gets to sit down and have some meaningful minutes with her cherished students.
“When I first took this job, we had three lunch periods,” Chaffin said. “From 11:33 to 1:05, I’m in the cafeteria monitoring thinking that’s an hour-and-a-half every day that I could be getting things done. It took me a week to realize that it’s the most important part of my day because I am sitting down with kids and asking, ‘How’s your day? What’s going well? What can I do to help? Those types of things.”
Chaffin is a regular at Red Devils sporting events. She spends most date nights with her husband, Wayne, at various Russell contests where dinner includes a trip to the concession stand, according to Chaffin.
“It’s really positive to know she’s there,” said Layne, who is Russell’s girls' basketball coach. “I know she talks to the players and gives them positive support as a former coach. It’s positive for them to hear that feedback. It’s always good to see administrators at ball games.”
Chaffin has accomplished many goals during her tenure. She said she has a great working relationship with the vocational school and principal Stacy Thompson. She has let her teachers instruct her on the influence of new technology in the school system.
Her main goal happens on graduation night.
“We have a lot of great kids who do a lot of great things,” Chaffin said. “So, when a student walks across that stage and is handed their diploma, my hope is that they can say the same thing that I did. They got a great education and that they were able to do what they wanted to do because they came through our hallways. Then I’ve done my job.”
Chaffin takes time out of her busy schedule each day to admire her favorite item in her office, a maroon block of wood that reads “Russell. There’s no place I’d rather be.” She hopes her successor, whomever that might be, will feel the exact same way.
“I’ve been surrounded by good people and that’s the reason Russell is successful,” Chaffin said. “There was a vision long before I walked into this office of making sure we hire the best. And when it’s all said and done, and I hand the keys to over to the next person and carry a box of stuff out of this office, my hope is it was better on that day than when I got here and not as good as it’s going to be.”