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New certainly didn’t mean rookie when Karey Stewart took over the reins as principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary School as the school year opened Monday.

Stewart brought with her a veritable wealth of experience in the profession, having originally taught music in the Detroit area in the mid-70s through the late 80s, switching to assorted classroom teaching positions up North and since 1995 in the Naples area, and now assuming leadership of one of the area’s oldest and most-beloved elementary schools.

She was welcomed by the school’s existing staff, and also joined by a batch of new (also not rookie) teachers: Nisha Johnson, Katie Marsteller, Missy Herrington, Andrea Strom, Heather Leedy, Michelle Alexander and Mary Hopkins.

“I’ve actually been on the job (at TBE) since July 6,” Stewart said a week before opening day - in between multi-tasking with nursing staff, cafeteria staff, police school resource officers, assistant principal Katie Maya, secretary Nancy Shea, and not just a few of the teachers. “I’m getting to know the teachers. Once they’re in their rooms, I’ll know their names in a day, and my hope is by the end of the school year I’ll know every child’s name.”

Procedurally, Stewart – who is immediately and clearly a mixture of compassion and discipline – said her immediate priorities are clear-cut.

“Two things,” she said. “Security … the safety of staff and students, and the instruction they are receiving. I have super high expectations for behavior and instruction, and I hold myself to those standards.”

That doesn’t mean taking a dictatorial stance.

“I need to be with the children. I want them to be the best students, citizens and family members,” she said. “And, I look at them as a family. They’ll always hear me say those things to them.”

Her staff members, she said, are clearly “smart and energizing people,” adding that she’d been a long-time friend of previous principal Jory Westberry, and that they’d had long discussions about TBE.

As for her overall motivation to have remained in the profession all her working life, Stewart was to the point.

I love the day to day excitement,” she said.

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