Recruiting homegrown talent: A success story from Middletown

Sometimes when our career ambitions are realized, we find out they’re not what we wanted.

Other times, our dreams and destinations line up perfectly.

When Carrie Kienlen was a senior at Middletown High School in 2014, and she was interviewing for college scholarships, she told the committee that after she earned her college degree, she would return to her roots.

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That was four years ago, and since then, Kienlen, 22, has graduated from Miami University with a degree in early childhood education, got married this summer to Will Parson, changed her last name, and began her career as a kindergarten teacher at Wildwood Elementary School in her hometown.

But this story is more than about a local district hiring an elementary school teacher.

It’s about a local girl leaving town to get her degree, then returning to Middletown to begin her career. Middletown — really any small town — needs more success stories like Carrie Kienlen. A city can only thrive if it recruits its best and brightest homegrown talent.

Carrie and Will Parsons have settled in Middletown and are becoming active in the community. This coming at a time when organizations need new blood transfusions.

“She has taken pride in her town,” said Carrie’s mother, Patricia Kienlen.

It also didn’t hurt being the daughter of a teacher. She spent many summer mornings helping her mother, a teacher for 38 years, set up her second-grade classrooms, and in later years, visiting her mother after school.

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Then Kienlen and her daughter would talk over dinner and most of the conversation centered around teaching.

“I guess my stories didn’t scare her away,” Kienlen said with a laugh.

Parsons called her mother “my biggest role model.”

Kienlen said she never had time to go to the bathroom while teaching. So that was the first thing she did when she got home. As she told her daughter: “You will learn, dear.”

This week, Parsons’ first as a teacher, she hasn’t even had time for lunch. While watching over her 18 students on Wednesday, Parsons ate part of her lunch — a cold-cut sandwich — while standing up in the cafeteria.

In the classroom, Parsons acted like a veteran instead of a rookie teacher. She displayed the perfect blend of affection and discipline with her students. She hugged them, corrected them.

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Wildwood Principal Keri Hensley spent part of the morning observing Parsons on her second day on the job. She left the classroom impressed, but not surprised. When Hensley and other kindergarten teachers interviewed Parsons for the position, they quickly realized Parsons had “it,” that factor they don’t teach in college.

“You are born with a certain amount of instincts,” Hensley said while sitting in her office. “She was born to be a teacher.”

The hiring committee knew that because Parsons was a Middletown native, she understood some of the challenges the district faces. One of the biggest is the economic disparity in Middletown. There are children from affluent families learning next to students who don’t know if they will eat dinner.

None of this will surprise Parsons. She lived it her entire time in the urban district.

“She knows what she’s getting and she wants to be here,” Hensley said. So hiring her was “a no-brainer,” she said.

Throughout the morning, Parsons had the attention of her students. She had a certain routine and a way to get them to listen.

“Class, class, class,” she would say.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the students would answer.

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While reading a story to them, a few became restless.

“You don’t talk when friends are talking,” she said.

For a minute, the room couldn’t have been quieter.

But every educational journey is lined with detours. Just when Parsons was making progress, she was interrupted by a student who wanted their shoes tied.

“Not now,” she said more than once.

Later, Parsons led her students through the lunch line, an exercise they practiced earlier in the day. The practice paid off because no students dropped their lunch, and after recess, all of the students returned.

Day 2 was a complete success.

“I’m so glad to be back in Middletown,” Parsons said while supervising recess. “It’s been all that I can imagine.”

Being a teacher in the same district where she once was a student has “always been in my heart. This is my family, the community that raised me,” she said.

Hensley beamed when she talked about Parsons, one of the 68 first-year teachers or staff members new to Middletown Schools this year.

“We got the bright apple with her,” the principal said. “She’s a great addition.”

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