Brian Chilson

Long before Stacey McAdoo was a communications teacher at Little Rock’s Central High School — let alone the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year — she was a poet. In the mid-’90s, having just graduated from Hall High School, she and her future husband, Leron, began self-publishing a magazine intended to serve as a platform for fellow creatives, especially people of color. They put out a call for submissions, cut-and-pasted together their book by hand and were soon running off copies at a 24-hour Kinkos. They dubbed it “The Writeous.”

“When you talk about underrepresented people, one of the things we are underrepresented in is media, and the ability to tell our story,” McAdoo said. “A lot of poets wanted to have a place to share their voice, and we filled that niche.”

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“Fast forward: When I became an educator, I took that same concept and brought it to the classroom,” she said. “So I am now the founder and sponsor of the Writeous Poetry Club … and the Writeous has transformed from a magazine to a youth-oriented poetry collective.”

Since McAdoo started the club in 2002 — her first year at Central and her first year teaching — at least 50 students have participated each year, writing and performing original material at open mics, concerts and on “The Writeous Hour,” a radio show she co-produces on local station KWCP-FM, 98.9. Kids learn new skills, build creative projects of their own and travel to other cities. “We also do workshops around Arkansas and the country, teaching other people, other youth, how to use and find their voice,” she said. (Leron, who’s better known around town as the multitalented performer, writer and artist Ron Mc, remains an integral part of “The Writeous.”)

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The state’s teacher of the year is a product of the Little Rock School District. McAdoo grew up in Southwest Little Rock, where she attended Baseline Elementary and Cloverdale Elementary, then went on to Henderson Middle School and Hall. McAdoo received a B.A. in professional and technical writing from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Though she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, she brushed those thoughts aside after graduating. The teaching profession was losing the esteem it had once enjoyed in society, McAdoo said; the message she received from her peers and community was that the classroom wasn’t the place for her. Instead, she found a comfortable job at Alltel as an administrative assistant and started a family.

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Then, her brother died in a car accident, “and I realized then that life was too short for me to not do what I felt I was supposed to do,” McAdoo said. “I quit my job, cut my hair off, and enrolled in … a master’s program [at UA Monticello].” As a first-year teacher, she said, she saw a drop in both pay and health benefits compared to her secretarial job at Alltel.

McAdoo arrived at Central the same year as its principal, Nancy Rousseau. She’s been teaching communications at the school ever since. She’s also taught AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college-readiness program for students who are typically the first in their families to go to college since 2007. “I’m their teacher 9th-12th grade,” she said. The purpose of AVID is to equip students with the “soft skills” they need to navigate adult life and “discover the hidden curriculum” in college and beyond. “We, as in society, basically operate from a middle-class white person’s perspective, and we assume everyone’s experience matches that,” she said.

As Teacher of the Year, McAdoo will receive a $14,000 award sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. Beginning in July 2019, she’ll spend a sabbatical year of service traveling the state and the nation, speaking with teachers and doing professional development. McAdoo will also have a nonvoting seat on the state Board of Education — the body that took over the Little Rock School District in 2015 and has controlled it for the last four years.

McAdoo said she “has a lot of thoughts” about education policy and the LRSD, but she’s not yet sure how she’ll leverage her newfound status. “I’m just looking and trying to see where my place is,” she said. Was she surprised to be selected for the honor? McAdoo laughed. “In light of who I am, and in light of today’s climate — yeah, it’s real interesting!” she said.

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In general, McAdoo isn’t shy about expressing her views. Sixteen years ago, as a newly minted teacher, she was skeptical of the emphasis placed on standardized testing by No Child Left Behind, the federal education law. She recalls saying as much to Rousseau during her first interview. Today, she said, “I still think standardized testing is — the word I want to use is ‘wack.’ … Because there’s no standard child. The whole premise of testing students to whatever this norm is, it’s ridiculous.” In her classroom, she said, “I close my door and I’ve done what I thought was best for the children. I teach pretty much the way I wish I had been taught — and/or the way that I think my biological children need.” (She and Ron have a daughter who’s now a senior at Central and a son who attends Tennessee State University; her daughter is an accomplished poet in her own right.)

Though she’s proud of her work in the classroom, McAdoo considers the Writeous Poetry Club her “most valuable contribution … to society” because it takes a group of kids and “helps validate them as thinkers.”

“My platform as Teacher of the Year is using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap,” she said. “You have a core group of students, for the most part from inner-city Little Rock … spending their time sitting around writing and re-writing and practicing. That’s how you transform not just education, but a city.”