When the first bell rings at Erath Excels! Academy in the 2007-08 school year it will be with a new principal, with a familiar face.

Valarie Harvick, 37, has been with the school since 1999 and has most recently served as the assistant principal, was promoted in late July following the resignation of Brenda Faulkner.

Harvick began as a teacher technology coordinator and has seen the school through many changes and growth periods. And with a new building looming on the horizon she fully expects to see many more.

“She’s been with us since the beginning and she’s very capable. I know she’ll do a good job,” Director Debra Miller said.

Harvick said she enjoys working at the school because it’s more challenging than a traditional school setting and she can leave every day feeling like she’s “made a difference.”

Harvick said her vision as principal is to develop ways to get the community more involved.

“I want the kids to learn there are people out there to support them instead of judge them,” Harvick said. “Some of the local churches have been really involved.”

Harvick said the involvement is good for the students and she’d like to see more of it.

“We have an open door policy,” Harvick said. “We welcome anyone to come out. We’re not afraid for people to come and see what we’re doing.”

Harvick said with an average enrollment of about 100 students and eight teachers, she anticipates the school to stay small for the benefit of the students.

“These kids are more successful in a small environment with a family atmosphere,” Harvick said. “And I like that atmosphere in our school.”

Harvick said she’s not afraid to make changes if something is not working.

“There is no jumping through hoops here to have a suggestion heard or a change made,” Harvick said. “It’s easy to implement changes. If it’s not working we try to fix it. Our kids don’t learn in traditional ways so we’re not afraid to try new things.”

Harvick said this year the school received the state rating of “Acceptable,” an accomplishment she and the faculty are proud of. What many do not realize is that charter schools are held to the same state and federal accountability measures that any other traditional school has. But a hardship in meeting those requirements is most students come to the school as a dropout from some other facility. For varied reasons the student is at risk of dropping out again and frequently they do. When this happens, each drop out counts against the school as far as the state is concerned and can push the rating below the acceptable level.

“Some students don’t really begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel until they’ve already dropped out at least once and are around 19 or so years old,” Harvick said. “They just mature later. If they come back a second time, we counsel with them to help make them understand they will be hurting the school considerably if they drop out again. Sometimes they go ahead and drop out again and want to come back and we counsel with them again.”

In order to try and raise the state mandated Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test scores, Harvick said for the upcoming school year two new curriculums will be offered. One being a program called Video Math and another online independent study course named Ed Options.

“We’re up to trying new things - whatever works - to improve our TAKS scores,” Harvick said.

Harvick said last year the school made positive strides by employing a parent liaison and she plans on keeping that program in place along with the Boy’s Town Discipline program the school adopted in 2002.

Harvick said many of the students enrolled have to work to support themselves and the parent liaison has proved invaluable in helping to coordinate work schedules with school schedules, by following up when a student is absent and making home visits when needed.

She’s a fan of the school’s discipline program.

“It promotes social skills that any kid needs. Such as, greeting by shaking hands and looking someone in the eye,” Harvick said. “It also teaches them how to accept criticism, which will help in personal as well as professional relationships. It’s all about building bridges not burning them.”

Harvick and other faculty members traveled to Nebraska in July to learn more about how to implement and make improvements regarding the program.

“Every year we get better and learn more,” Harvick said. “For teachers that are used to handling their own discipline, the program is more difficult for them. It’s easier for a new teacher to buy into it.”

Harvick grew up in Andrews and received a bachelor’s degree in business in 1991 from Tarleton State University. She then earned her teacher’s certification in 1994.

She is married to Scott Harvick and has a 12-year-old daughter, Brooke.

The one thing Harvick says she doesn’t look forward to? The day Debra Miller decides to retire.

“I just don’t think I could do this without Debra. She’s the reason we all keep going,” Harvick said.