Editor's note: This is the second in a five-part series of articles honoring retired educators for Teacher Appreciation Week.
RUSSELLVILLE — Since 1974, Jana Thompson has carried forth a respected legacy in education at Cole-R-1 Schools.
Having served in an assortment of teaching and administrative positions, she has taught and worked with parents, their children and, in one circumstance, even the grandchild of a former student.
Born and raised in the Kansas City area, Thompson enrolled at the University of Missouri in Columbia after her graduation from high school in 1970. At an early age, she realized she wanted to become an educator.
"Education is something that I always enjoyed," Thompson said. "I used to make my brother, who was six years younger, play school with me while we were growing up. I even decorated a bulletin board and felt I was destined to be a teacher."
While in college, she met and was engaged to Harry Thompson, a fellow student. She went on to graduate with her bachelor's degree in education, with an emphasis in early childhood, during the spring of 1974. Several weeks later, she and Harry married.
Before her graduation, she interviewed for jobs with the Jefferson City and Russellville school districts. Thompson soon accepted an employment offer from Russellville, from where her husband had graduated a few years earlier.
"The superintendent, Grover Snead, actually hired me as the sixth-grade teacher," she recalled. "However, the husband of the first-grade teacher was being transferred with his job, and they asked if I wanted to teach first grade."
With a sigh, she added, "That was a blessing, because I had been a little nervous about teaching the sixth grade."
For the next five years, she grew as an educator while teaching first-grade classes. Thompson soon made the decision to return to the University of Missouri and, in 1978, earned her master's degree in curriculum development.
In 1979, her daughter, Courtney, was born, and Thompson took off six months before returning to Russellville to teach the elementary learning disabilities class in a half-time capacity. When her son, Ben, was born in 1982, she took off from teaching for one year. In the fall of 1983, she returned to teaching the learning disabilities class half-time until becoming a full-time fourth-grade teacher in late 1984.
"I taught the fourth grade for the next seven years," she recalled. "But in 1991, when Marjorie Morrow retired, I took her position as a second-grade teacher and did that for the next 16 years."
During this timeframe, she was accepted into the Select Teachers as Regional Resources program. This required she take a one-year leave of absence from her teaching duties to work with the program, which was coordinated through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"I had an office at the university in Columbia and was part of a team of teachers that traveled around the state to determine what worked well in local school districts, helped design professional development for educators, and shared best practices in education," she said. "As part of the program, the state reimbursed my salary to the school system."
A change in her educational experiences came with her 2006 assignment to teach Title I Reading at Russellville, while also serving as the curriculum director for the school district. From there, she finished out her full-time career as the assistant principal for grades kindergarten through eighth, maintaining her responsibilities as curriculum director.
"One of the interesting pieces of being assistant principal was having the responsibility for disciplining students. There was one elementary student," she added, "who was always tardy for class. The school handbook said when a student was late a certain number of times, then they are supposed to complete detention."
Thompson said the student's parent admitted they were personally responsible for their child being late, so they should be the one given detention. This situation necessitated a creative disciplinary moment that had a positive outcome.
"So, I gave the parent detention and the student wasn't late anymore," she said with a chuckle. "I wasn't being mean or a grandstander, but just doing what our handbook and policy required."
On another occasion, when a number of students were misbehaving on the bus, she came up with another disciplinary solution.
"During recess, the bus just happened to be parked next to the playground," she said. "I had the students go sit on the bus, and we practiced good behavior."
She added, "They got better quickly."
Thompson made the decision to retire in 2013. After enjoying a full year of away from work, she was hired as a part-time educator with the Parents as Teachers program in Russellville and continues to serve in this capacity. Additionally, she is president of the Russellville School Foundation, a group that raises funds in support of sports programs and sets up the annual alumni banquet.
There have been many memorable moments during her decades in education, including having the opportunity to teach the children of some of her former students. Recently, she worked with the grandchild of a former student as part of her duties with PAT.
She affectionately noted one of the most notable aspects of her time with Russellville schools is the small, close-knit culture.
"My graduating class from high school was about the size of the entire school district in Russellville," she said. "You knew a few of the people in your class, but it was much more impersonal than at Russellville."
She added, "I like working and being at a small school where everyone knows each other, we all care about one another, and everyone is focused on providing the best education possible for the entire student body."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.