Janna Barrs found her way to Madison after leaving a banking career in the St. Cloud/Kissimee area, where she worked mainly in real estate development for Barnett Bank. The Orange Park native was sure there was more she could do to better improve the lives of those around her and it wasn't long before she ended up at Madison Academy, now Madison Creative Arts Academy (MCAA).
Barrs began her new career at the Academy in 2000, where she team taught fourth and fifth grade with Kim Whigham. She still vividly recalls her first year of teaching. "It was exhausting," said Barrs, with a genuine smile that never seems to leave her face. ""It was really hard to balance job and family responsibilities. I spent most of my Saturdays grading papers and preparing for the next week. As Summer came around, I took the old-fashioned wooden desks outside to sand and repaint them. It was so hot that I would go back to my room between paintings and stand in front of the air conditioner. It felt good at the time, but it gave me pneumonia."
Barrs joined the administration in 2007, while still teaching a full load. In 2008, Barrs was asked to serve as the head of the school on an interim basis. "Each year, I would agree to do it again, on an interim basis, but that title eventually wore off," said Barrs, who continued juggling classroom and administrative duties until 2015. "In the Spring of that year, we began working on fulfilling the requirements to become a charter school.
Having successfully achieved that daunting task in just a matter of months, Madison Creative Arts Academy opened its doors to the public in the Fall of 2016. The work was just beginning for Barrs and the staff of MCAA. Suddenly, they were blending their 130 students with an incoming 140 students who came in through a lottery system. The swell of new students created a spacing issue that the school, parents and the community came together to address. "We did away with an entire hill and got portable buildings in place before the school year began," said Barrs. "Everyone did an amazing job."
Spacing was a minor concern to Barrs, who was more deeply concerned with maintaining the high standards necessary for producing successful students. "We have a great staff that acts more like a family," said Barrs. "We really enjoy working together and we worked really hard as a team to give our students the best education possible. Plus, our Board and parents are very supportive and that makes a huge difference." That teamwork produced the needed scores on the Florida Standardized Assessments to give MCAA the "A" rating they desired in their first year as a charter school.
As their success has continued over the last few years, Barrs continues to look for the best options for future expansion. She is more relaxed about how that will turn out due to the confidence she has in her staff, parents and board of directors. "We have the right heart and we can create excellence where ever we are," said Barrs. "The heart of the people is what builds the egg [that births successful students], not the structure."
Part of that excellence is a result of Barrs' contagious optimism and upbeat attitude that she exudes towards her staff and students. Her hopes for the students of Madison County extend far beyond the halls of MCAA. "I want to see all of our schools succeed," said Barrs.