by Julie Lineback

Lithia Springs High School has always held a special place in the heart of Jessica Ainsworth, a University of West Georgia alumna and current Ed.D. student. Her father worked at Lithia Springs as an at-risk teacher for 14 years. However, when she had to return to write a school improvement grant, she faced a challenge.

Jessica Ainsworth and Senator David Perdue (R-GA). Photo credit: National Association of Secondary School Principals
Jessica Ainsworth and Senator David Perdue (R-GA). Photo credit: National Association of Secondary School Principals

The National Association of Secondary School Principals recently named Jessica as National Assistant Principal of the Year in recognition of her accomplishments helping improve the culture and climate at the struggling school. Lithia Springs High School had some of the lowest graduation rates and student achievement scores in the state when Jessica arrived to assist with the grant, which was part of the Federal Race to the Top program. She and two others implemented the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program. As a result of that program, graduation rates, job placements, and college acceptances increased. And the reading proficiency rate tripled from 27 percent to 83 percent among students with disabilities.

Jessica said she was able to reach this achievement by utilizing practices she learned at UWG, namely shaping a vision of academic success for all students; creating a climate hospitable to education; cultivating leadership in others; improving instruction; and managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement.

“Ultimately, UWG has empowered me to lead through struggles by having a strong commitment for quality teaching and student learning,” she explained. “There is a tremendous amount of data to show the impact these concepts have had on Lithia, but most importantly we have unique stories that celebrate transformation. Through personalized learning, one student was able to create STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) projects and is a recent Gates Millennium Scholarship winner. Another student, who dropped out several times, now has a high school diploma through an intervention program.”

UWG’s College of Education (COE) Dean Dianne Hoff expressed her pride at Jessica’s success.

“The College of Education is proud that a UWG graduate has distinguished herself on the national stage, but this is no surprise,” Dean Hoff said. “Jessica is an outstanding, student-focused leader. I am pleased that she has chosen COE to continue her education and pursue a doctoral degree.”

Jessica said she continues to focus on improving outcomes for students and preparing them to be 21st century learners.

“At Lithia, we do things different and have transformed a school,” Jessica concluded. “Together we have accomplished so much and become path changers for our students and community. The award of National Assistant Principal of the Year is a great honor for our students, teachers, support staff, and administrators and is just one representative of our very special story.”

For more information about the online Doctor of Education with a Major in School Improvement program, visit

Posted on August 27, 2015