As Federal Programs Supervisor for Grundy County Schools, Shalonda Braden works with teachers and students across the local area. She recently spoke with the Herald about her family, her job, and a new program that is in place to help students reach their reading goals.
Shalonda, the daughter of Jerry Gallagher and Karen Barnes Gallagher, is originally from Pelham. She has a sister, Amanda Gallagher Ruehling, and a brother Dustin Gallagher. She attended Pelham Elementary School and Grundy County High School.
“What I remember most about Pelham Elementary School is Big 8 basketball. I played each year during middle school.
“I also played basketball for Grundy County High School and my coach was Ricky Richards. We won district all four of my years at Grundy and placed in the region every year. My senior year we made it to sub-state.
“During the summer, I played summer ball (softball).”
After graduation, in 1992, Shalonda took two years off and had her first child, Karastin.
“I worked a few jobs. I worked at Sav-A-Lot and at the Richardson shirt Factory. But, I realized pretty soon that I wanted to do something else. I went to Motlow and earned my Associates Degree and continued on at Tennessee Tech. I graduated from Tech with a Bachelor’s of Science in Education.
“While I was attending Tech, I had my second child, Kyla. It was a crazy time because I was driving back and forth to school every day.”
After graduating from Tennessee Tech in 1999, Shalonda accepted her first teaching job at Palmer Elementary School.
“Karastin and I started school on the same day. She was a Kindergarten student at Palmer and I was a third grade teacher.
“I taught at the school for 10 years – third grade for five years, and then I moved to fifth grade to teach math.”
It was during her time at Palmer that Shalonda had her son, Bryson. She loved teaching but decided to take a year’s absence to pursue selling Mary Kay cosmetics.
“I was selling Mary Kay while working as a teacher and, as one of their top salespersons, won a car. After I had the car for about a year, I wanted to see if selling Mary Kay was something I would like doing full time.
“I enjoyed that year, but I missed working as a teacher and being with the students.
“I had many standout moments at Palmer, and the truth is, I am still having them. The relationships I developed with my kids and their families are what I consider highlights. I consider it a highlight when I get a random Facebook message just to say, ‘Hey, Ms. Braden.’ I also get success stories from students and parents. Some students now will text mea picture of a math problem for me to help them – not during class, of course – and I love that. I am so proud of every student I ever taught.”
In December 2011, Shalonda moved to the Central Office and became the Federal Programs Supervisor for the school system. This position covers a multitude of duties including overseeing Title1.
“We are very excited about our new 2020 goal. By the year 2020 we hope to have 90 percent of Grundy County’s third grade students reading at or above their grade level. This means they will be at or above the 50th percentile on their TCAP exams.
“If you count back from 2020, next year’s Pre-K students will be the first to begin this program. However, we are already working with current students. We have implemented reading initiatives in all the schools and every school is including more reading time in the school day. Teachers are meeting the students where they are, providing reading material appropriate for their current reading levels not their grade levels.”
Shalonda says she keeps an eye on the data and is seeing marked improvements.
“Kindergarten through third grade students were administered a benchmark test in August with 31 percent testing on grade level. I recently collated the data from a second benchmark test administered in December and we now have 62 percent of students reading on grade level in Kindergarten through grade three. That means we have doubled the number of students who are reading at grade level in five months with our reading initiatives and allowing the students more reading time. We even have some Kindergarten classrooms at 100 percent.”
Shalonda stresses that the successes they are seeing is due to excellent teachers and para pros.
“The teachers and para pros are the ones doing the work. I just help get it going. They are with the students every day, providing a strong foundation.”
The Federal Programs Supervisor is a year-round position, and Shalonda does not get her summers off.
“I don’t have much free time! Kyla plays basketball for Richard Hardy and summer softball and Bryson plays football and basketball. They keep me very busy. I also have two wonderful grandchildren, Tristin and Lindley, who call me Nonda.
“I do play softball in the summer for a summer league in Manchester.”
Shalonda did take the time to celebrate her fortieth birthday by going skydiving.
With the new reading programs in Grundy County schools, we hope to hear more good news from Shalonda soon.