Over the last 22 years, Brighton High School has stayed true to its mission: Working as a team, we see our mission as ensuring that our students develop their full potential, so as lifelong learners they are prepared for the next level and can both contribute to and benefit from society.
While most of that original team has come and gone, there is still a handful of faculty that remain.
The members of the original team are principal-Christi Huffman, wellness and softball coach-Robin Jacobs, assistant and snack cart organizer-Valerie Turnbull, school secretary-Gail Wakefield, and band director-Mr. Jonathon Findley.
Among this group is a sense of comfort and camaraderie that comes from sharing a common goal. They exhibit leadership, not only for the students, but also for other faculty.
Says Huffman, “The unique thing, because we've been here for so long now, is we're really teaching the next generation. Those of us that are the originals, are seeing the people that we taught and graduated their children. That's pretty cool.”
“I'll call them my grandchild,” jokes Findley, “I had my first grandchild a few years ago. She walked in my band hall and sat down. I said, 'Your face looks familiar.' She said, 'Well, you taught my mom.'
Wakefield had a similar experience.
“Kayla Gooden is my office worker now and Tasha, her mom, was Miss BHS of the first graduating class. So I have a grandchild now,” she says.
Not only are they seeing “grandchildren”, but former students are returning to teach, as well.
“We do have students that come back and teach here,” adds Jacobs.
Huffman states, “There are probably six or seven graduates that are back teaching now. Let me say, those are the people that come back and do a fantastic job. They have a vested interest in this building, in this community, and it works out well for us.”
All of the originals, with the exception of Findley, were raised within a 50 mile radius of Brighton. All of them previously worked at a Tipton County School before coming to the high school.
“When this school was suddenly dropped right in the middle of this area, it brought a lot back to the name of Brighton-what it did have at once with the Old Brighton High. Then it got shutdown. Now Brighton's got it's name back. It took a minute for Cardinal Spirit to come back in, but it's there,” says Findley.
Turnbull agrees, “It took a while for some of the kids that had to come here. I had some that were at Munford High School, and then they had to come here. We started out with 130-140 in the first graduating class.”
“In the first two to three years, you knew every kid in the school. Everyone of them. Just evolving from that number to now-this is a big school,” says Jacobs.
Today the school has around 1,400 students. Memories have been a big part of the journey for this unique group.
“When we first started, it was a small group. We were very close-knit,” remembers Turnbull.
Huffman adds, “At the very beginning, we would take a break, mid-morning, about a 15-20 minute break and all students would congregate in the front lobby and cafeteria for a snack. Then the bell would ring and we would all report back to class. That certainly cannot happen anymore.”
“Phone lines were a single line, no intercom and no radio. I remember walking down the hallway giving teachers messages. I was like, 'This has got to change,” says Wakefield.
Findley remembers the footing being laid for the school. He can remember the area reserved for the band hall when it was still a dirt floor.
“I don't know that you can say there is one favorite memory, because there are so many. It's watching the growth of the school, and growth of the students as they walk in and walk out,” says Findley.
They can recount a few of the most amusing moments throughout the years.
“I won't forget the one year the seniors put Mr. Shipley's golf cart up on the roof, with his deer head sitting there driving,” Turnbull recalls.
Findley remembers former principal Kathryn Roe (Huffman) and her stuffed animal frogs. “We kept kidnapping the frogs.”
Huffman has her own story about Dr. John Combs, current Director of Instruction for the Tipton County Board of Education, when he was a teacher at Brighton High.
“Dr. Combs taught English here and he is very, very obsessive compulsive. His desk-everything has to be exact. Numerous times he would leave, people would go in, and the next morning he'd come in and the room would be rearranged. But then, I think one time they glued some things to his desk,” she reveals.
“It wasn't students. It was other coaches,” adds Turnbull.
“Well, I didn't know that part,” laughs Huffman, “So yeah, he was a target for a lot of his obsessive compulsiveness.”
Wakefield continues, “He would play pranks too. He put a poster board of a man in the woman's restroom. So, you would open the door and just scream.”
While reminiscing on the more playful times, principal Huffman takes a moment to give credit where credit is due.
“I think we would be remiss if we did not mention Mr. Shipley set the foundation for all of us. He mentored all of us. He set the standard of excellence that we all continue to strive for everyday in what we do. We definitely have to give him credit.”
All of the originals agree. They have watched the school evolve over the course of 22 years, into 1,400 students.
“We've only had 3 principals here, but you can't go back and do it like you would in 1996. We've evolved to 1,400 kids,” says Jacobs.
With a school this size, with this many students, safety will always be an issue. Now that so much attention has been put on Brighton High with the recent lockdown, the faculty and staff share their thoughts on safety.
Do you feel safe?
“I do. I think with us practicing, and going through, and the kids know what to do. Most of the kids, if they think or know something's not right, they will go and tell someone. They'll come and tell somebody to check it out,” says Turnbull.
Wakefield, who sees everyone that comes through the front door, says, “With the security system and the door-buzzing in, showing ID, it's really a plus, and so I think that we do feel safe.
“I can tell you, the teachers, staff, administration, and everybody within this school, they know what they need to do in case an event like that happens. I feel safe, and I feel that everybody in this school can take care of our students in the event of an emergency. I have total faith in my school,” says Findley.
Jacobs says, “I don't think I've ever not felt safe. Never, ever. We've had bomb threats, fire alarms, and the lockdown. I've never worried, and my kids were here too. Both of them. I was here with them, and that makes a difference too, but I've never worried about my kids even in elementary school. That's never been a concern of mine.”
“Safety is certainly one of our priorities. Our biggest asset in terms of safety is our students. Students are going to know what is in this building. They're gonna know those things and so we all work hard in establishing a culture where they feel comfortable in sharing. They know when they give us info, that info is going to stay confidential. Their name is not going to get thrown out there. I think we are all confident in knowing what our pla and our steps are, and being able to execute that. Yes, I would love, as principal of this school to have a full-time student resource officer on campus all the time just to serve us. Absolutely. I think that would be better, but with what we have right now, no school is ever immune to the challenges,” says Huffman.
The social media storm specifically surrounding the lockdown helped to create panic, conspiracy, and confusion.
Wakefield sums it up best.
“Most people believe if they see if on social media-it's true, and that is not always the case,” she says.
When asked about what has kept them with Brighton High all these years, they had this to say.
Says Turnbull,“I like the kids that I work with and have. I'm not the kind to just sit. I've gotta be doing something, and my room keeps me going from the minute I walk in, until I go home. I like what I do.”
“I like what I do too. I love paperwork. I love organizing. I love being busy. I do like the people I work with, and I do love this “Fabulous Five”, that I stay with, adds Wakefield.
Findley mentions, “This is my baby. I started this with 23 kids in band and now we've got this program. I know the art of music and instrumental music, it's evolving. Just the art itself, so I'm learning something everyday. Everyday is something new. I'm still growing.”
“From January to December 31st, most of us are at this school every week. Even through the summer you'll see us up here a couple of times a week. I like my job, living where I live and working with who I work with. I don't think it gets any better,” claims Jacobs.
The positive attitudes and school pride from this bunch, is an example of commitment not only to this school, but to this community. Through the years they have helped mold generations of students to become successful, and they are still going. No matter what the skeptics say, there is no denying that these “Fab Five” love their jobs and the students of Brighton High.