PROFILE: A hometown leader: EHES Principal Courtney Madison gives back in her hometown

Published 8:37 am Friday, March 15, 2024

By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor

Courtney Madison is walking down the aisle of a grocery store when an old student of hers sprints up to her. With a giant grin on her face, she wraps her arms around Courtney’s neck in a big hug.

Courtney smiles back and asks the student how they are doing. “You’re doing what you’re supposed to, right?” The smiling student mischievously shakes her head no in response.

This interaction has become something of a tradition between the two of them, with different iterations of the encounter happening each and every time the two happen to cross paths with one another. It all stems back from when Courtney taught her in the fourth grade.

“She had a lot of life going on,” Courtney says. “Each day, she came in and we would do check-ins and she would tell me how things were going and I would always make sure that I saw her as—yes, my student—but also as a person.”

These continual interactions between them left an indelible mark on the student that persists even into the present.

“This student, no matter where she sees me, will come and she’s going to hug my neck, she’s going to check in,” Courtney says. “Little things like that—relationships that are built and formed—those little moments transcend beyond a school year.”

Interactions like this serve as the fuel that keeps Courtney at her best. Knowing the impact that she has, it encourages her to get up and serve her students to the fullest extent each day as the principal of Elvin Hill Elementary School.

“That’s why I always say every moment matters, every interaction matters and every word matters,” Courtney says. “Because you never know how that one small moment is going to impact a student for years to come.”

A unique role

Courtney has made Elvin Hill Elementary School her home the past five years as an administrator and wouldn’t have it any other way as a former teacher at the school and with her roots to the city of Columbiana.

“It’s been a great experience every day,” she says. “I feel like I learn something new about myself and this position and serving others. It is definitely a unique role.”

Having always considered herself to be an early riser, she begins each school morning bright and early, starting with what she refers to as her quiet time—during which she does her devotional and prepares herself for the day.

It is in these early minutes of each school day where she prepares herself, and also performs the first tasks of the day in her other lifelong occupation, being the mother of two boys.

“My boys are also here with me,” Courtney says. “They are in first and fifth grade, so that’s where the hustle comes in—me telling them to hurry up, get in the car, we’ve got to get to the school.”

After arriving at the school, Courtney meets with the registrar to make sure that all of the substitute teachers are covered for the day before running off to welcome the students in the morning as they enter the school.

“After that, I try classroom visits and checking in on learning,” Courtney says. “I always like to go in and ask students what they’re learning and let them explain that to me.”

She then shifts her attention to emails, meeting with parents, disciplinary actions and checking off the long to-do list of sticky notes that reside on her desk.

It’s a never-ending and consistently-expanding list of tasks and objectives, but to Courtney, it is where the thrill of the job thrives.

“Some days, you just never know,” she says with eyes on the notes. “You want to be able to predict it, but you just don’t know.”

Home sweet home

Despite loving every moment of the past five years serving as principal, Courtney didn’t always plan to be in administration or be an educator.

“I always wanted to be a pediatrician,” Courtney says with a smile. “That is what I remember being my end goal.”

However, she changed her mind after a meaningful encounter with a teacher she remembers to this day.

“Fast forward to my senior year at Shelby County High School,” Courtney says. “Frances Schofield—I will never forget Frances Schofield—she was piloting a future teachers program. So, I’m thinking, ‘Why not, I need an elective, let’s do this.’”

Through the program, she was able to get a glimpse into education from the educator’s side of the school desk—fittingly enough at Elvin Hill—which altered the entire trajectory of her professional life.

“We were able to come and do classroom visits, read and work with the students, assist teachers as needed. And that changed my mind,” Courtney says. “The more I did that, the more we went through that class, the more I thought, ‘This what I want to do.’”

That set her on a path toward one day returning to her hometown to not only teach in that same school but lead it as principal of Elvin Hill.

A helping hand

Courtney is a firm believer that an administrator is nothing without their staff, and at Elvin Hill, she is surrounded by a village of people who help collect each achievement and make it a true place of learning and development.

“Everybody in this building helps me in some form or fashion,” Courtney says. “I call my office staff my dream team—they keep it going.”

At the helm of the school, Courtney is joined in administrative duties by Assistant Principal Jane Smith.

“I honestly could not do this job without her by my side,” Courtney says. “We are such a great duo.”

Courtney and Jane have a history of working well together—having met back when they were both in school growing up in Columbiana. They served as instructional coaches together for Shelby County Schools and collaborated together as teachers at Elvin Hill as well.

“We’ve actually known each other, more or less, our whole lives,” Jane says. “We went to elementary school together, (continued) together through middle school and high school and I’ve always just looked up to her as a person and her spirit and her personality in general is contagious in a good way.”

Together, the two lead the teachers and students and set a positive example.

“She’s in classrooms with students every day,” Jane said. “It’s really the day-to-day interactions with the students that’s the game changer. Her door’s always open to both students and teachers, and she’s constantly building relationships with those people and they feel comfortable talking to her.”

The difference makers

Courtney isn’t afraid to embarrass herself or go to extreme lengths to benefit the school and her staff.

“One of my most fond memories is the time that we dressed as Rex and Hamm from Toy Story and we got up on the roof of the school to celebrate that we had just hit our fundraiser goal,” Jane says. “Mrs. Madison was an excellent Hamm as she danced on top of the roof to welcome car riders and bus riders.”

It is those small steps of going above and beyond to engage with the students that led to Elvin Hill Math Coach Misty Howard describing Courtney as having a heart of gold, while she also highlighted the incredible job of navigating the waters of COVID-19.

During the pandemic, the staff shifted into an adjustment period of at-home learning during what normally is teacher appreciation week. To bolster spirits and raise morale, Courtney and the office staff sought out a way to show the teachers just how much they mean to the school.

“We wanted to tell them thank you and that we had not forgotten them while they were learning at home,” Courtney says. “We literally drove to every house and saw every teacher—for two days we did that.”

At each stop, Courtney and those traveling alongside her brought cookies and T-shirts and placed a sign in each yard that read “A difference maker lives here.”

Courtney Madison, Cynthia Monrow, Jane Smith and Misty Howard.

“I don’t think any of them were surprised that we were doing something like that,” Courtney says.

This example of support isn’t a one-off occurrence either, as Courtney finds time each year to give the teachers a break during Christmas time while also creating a fun activity for her students.

“She also likes to make sure that the teachers feel honored and valued, so during Christmas time, she will do Jingle Jam for each grade level,” Misty says. “Even though her schedule is hectic and crazy—she still makes that extra time for them be able to just be able to wrap up from this first semester and also provide a little extra fun for the kids.”

Valuing people

Each year, at the end of the football season at Shelby County High School, the players are given the opportunity to recognize someone who has had an impact on their educational or athletic journey. In 2022, a familiar face put together a special surprise for Courtney.

The senior football player told a familiar, yet distinctly unique and impactful, story of the moments back in fourth grade when Courtney made a lifetime’s worth of difference by being there in the moment as a teacher.

“Those are the moments that remind you (that) what you do really matters,” Courtney says. “What you do makes a difference, even if it’s the small things.”

Those are the moments she cherishes the most, and it all culminates when the former young students of hers at Elvin Hill, whether in her classroom or in the school with her as an administrator, come back for the senior walk at Elvin Hill ahead of graduation.

It serves as an opportunity to see her past students walk by one last time as they approach adulthood and realize that she was a part of their journey.

“In the next two years I will see the students who were my students as principal my first year,” Courtney says. “Those moment just make me smile because you see them and you know how they got their start. And now you’re able to see them go off into the world.”