Leadership with heart

Meeting the needs of students inside and outside of the classroom

Ashley Mize has always been invested in her hometown of Smyrna. When she became the principal of Green Acres Elementary School in February of 2017, she saw an opportunity to help many of the children and families in her community. At that time, Green Acres was the lowest performing school in the county.  

“Within the first few days of becoming principal, there were several things that just broke my heart,” said Ashley. “First and foremost, the kids didn’t speak. They walked in the doors and didn’t even really make eye contact. So, I greeted them everyday with a ‘Good morning!’ That started changing the culture at the school.”

She also noticed that many of the students didn’t have clean or proper school clothes. So, she implemented a school uniform consisting of khaki or navy-blue pants, and white, navy blue or light blue golf shirts.

“This was something that really helped our students because they didn’t have to worry about what they were wearing,” said Ashley.

With donations, she put together a uniform closet, including shoes, socks and underwear. So, when the kids didn’t have the means to buy uniforms, the school could provide them.

The next thing she noticed was that many students were hungry and lacked adequate food at home.

“We partnered with MUST Ministries and opened the first Green Acres food pantry,” she said. “We call it ‘A Client Choice,’ where families can come in and shop. We have about 40 families that get regular monthly groceries. Community volunteers run the pantry on the distribution days.”

Ashley didn’t stop there.

“Next, we started a backpack program, which we call ‘The Gator Pack’, since we’re the Gators. On Fridays we send home 200 Gator Packs full of snacks, granola bars, microwavable ravioli, applesauce, cereal and anything else that we can stuff in there to sustain them for the weekend.”

On Monday mornings, students bring in their empty backpacks, which are numbered, and on Thursdays, community volunteers refill them.

“It’s a big undertaking, but it’s definitely worth it, because I’ll tell you, the little smiles on their faces when they come to pick up their backpacks every Friday makes us so happy,” said Ashley.

One of the biggest challenges, said Ashley, is figuring out where to get the snacks. She said she’s been lucky so far and continually says prayers to keep the snacks coming.

In the summertime, they continue to run the food pantry for their regular families and anyone else who needs it. Last summer, Ashley was able to keep the school library open and when kids came in, she would ask if they needed any food. If they did, she would let them fill up a bag.

“The first and most important change I have noticed is the comfort and confidence levels of our students” she said. “They come to school dressed properly, they come to school not hungry; they’re happy and joyful and want to learn.”

Secondly, she proudly stated that Green Acres had the highest CCRPI (College and Career Ready Performance Index) growth in the district this year. She believes this result is directly tied to the students being provided for and from her staff working hard to improve their instructional practices.

Besides local churches and businesses, one of her most generous partners in education is Tina Abercrombie, the owner of C&S Paving. She provides much needed funds and resources.

If people or businesses would like to help, either financially or by volunteering time (both of which are always needed), they can reach out to Ashley Mize through phone or email at  678-842-6805;

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