Shalonda Adams finds her passion where others might fear to tread: Pine Tree Independent School District’s P.A.C.E. Alternative Campus.
“It’s the reason that I get up in the morning. It’s the place where I get to go and know that I get to effect positive change in the life of a young person,” said Adams, 45.
Being principal of P.A.C.E. — Pirate Alternative to Continuing Education — fulfills her life purpose: “To heal the hearts of the children so that they don’t become hurting adults. And to teach others how to take care of the children.”
Students are assigned to the P.A.C.E. alternative campus for violating part of Pine Tree’s Student Code of Conduct, according to the school district’s website. They attend P.A.C.E. for 20 days or more, depending on the seriousness of the offense and any mitigating factors.
At P.A.C.E., students have an opportunity to change negative attitudes and patterns of behavior. They learn self-discipline and how to set goals.
“We get to know every student. We home in on whatever it is (that’s preventing their success), so that we can help them,” Adams said.
“It’s a very structured and very disciplined program,” she stressed. “The kids love it and they hate it at the same time.”
For Adams, the reward is seeing students develop and grow.
“Everybody makes mistakes and life is not over. I want them to get a goal, get a purpose and make it happen,” she said.
“We’re always encouraging them to be change makers. … They can make a positive difference in the world by using their genius,” Adams said.
Some P.A.C.E. alumni return to see her years later.
For example, one young man assigned to P.A.C.E. during his senior year resented being there, she said.
He graduated, then went into military service. Recently, he stopped by her office to tell her he was doing well, and that he had benefited from P.A.C.E..
“He said in boot camp they started telling (new recruits), ‘Stand here. Line up there.’ He said, ‘Oh, I know this. This is P.A.C.E.,’ ” Adams said, laughing.
“Those are the things that make it all worthwhile, because it is a very hard job. You have to have what it takes to do this job for it to be effective. I have a wonderful team, wonderful staff,” she said.
Pine Tree ISD Assistant Superintendent Valerie Baxter has worked with Adams for three years.
“She is a servant, first of all. She has a heart for service, for children, the community,” Baxter said. “I don’t know how she gets her energy, but she works tirelessly.”
She faithfully attends her children’s sporting events, where “she is constantly mentoring (other) children,” Baxter said.
“She’s not boastful. In meetings, she’s very reserved and observant. When she has something to say, it’s very meaningful,” Baxter continued.
“The things she does are for other people’s benefit. … If your bootstraps are broken, she’ll help you mend them and she’ll help you get up,” Baxter said.
Adams was born and raised in Mansfield, Louisiana, and was the 1991 valedictorian at Stanley High School in Logansport, Louisiana. She attended Louisiana State University and completed her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Texas at Tyler.
She also earned a master’s of education in educational administration with a principal certification and, later, a superintendent certification at the University of Texas at Tyler. Through Walden University, Adams is pursuing a doctorate in educational administration and leadership, which she expects to complete within the next year or two.
Her husband is Larry Adams Sr., who works for the Pine Tree ISD transportation department after retiring from the city of Longview. They have four children, ranging in age from 17 to 31, and five grandsons.
Her Christian faith is important to Adams.
“My whole life has imprints of the hand of God,” she said.
The Rev. B.W. Craig of True Vision Ministries has known Adams since the 1990s.
“She’s a very confident person. She’s a real go-getter. She’s awesome about being available if she has the abilities needed” for a particular job or duty, he said. “And she’s quick to share.”
He described her as energetic, driven and honorable. “She believes in excellence,” Craig said.
Adams has lived in Longview since 1995 and has been in the educational field since 2006. This is her fifth year as principal; before that she was a P.A.C.E. elementary school teacher for two years.
As a child, she loved to play school during summer vacation.
“My fifth-grade social studies teacher, Mrs. Bertha Wiggins, even allowed me to lead some class sessions. That was a mighty seed sown to my future. I wanted to be just like her, sassy, classy and smart,” Adams said.
Her key mentors are: Teresa Farler, Johnnie M. Johnson and Lyndell McAllister.
Farler, Pine Tree’s former superintendent, “inspired me to be a lifelong learner who seeks and implements innovative ideas to make learning and change possible for all students,” Adams continued.
Johnson was the program manager at the former Longview Youth Shelter when Adams worked with her. “She instilled so many character traits in me to help me become a better person,” she said.
McAllister “exemplifies the non-judgmental care, compassion and support for all people in so many ways. I wanted to learn how to do that. … I believe that she chose me, and over the years, our hearts beat as one,” she said.
Adams and McAllister have worked together for more than a decade in programs sponsored by the city of Longview’s Partners in Prevention. Adams is a longtime mentor through Partners in Prevention.
McAllister described Adams as “intelligent, strong and intentional.”
“Young people who have been referred for behavioral issues at school respect her, love her. They clearly understand that she cares about them, but she has high expectations (for) them to change their behavior,” McAllister said.
“She understands how to motivate students to change course. And she does it in a way that is kind and caring, yet firm,” she said.
“She is also a fun person. She laughs a lot. … She’s particularly gifted in working with young people,” McAllister said.
In 2015, the two women started Hope for Youth as a response to a rise in deadly gang violence in the city.
Adams was spurred to action because her P.A.C.E. students “were being directly affected by the violence and murders taking place at that time, here in Longview. We had 80 people at the first meeting.
“The main focus was to provide positive activities, to deter them from gang activities,” she said.
Hope for Youth tries to influence and change the minds of older youth. With younger children, “we still have opportunities to plant those positive seeds of anti-violence. We invest in those younger ones so that they won’t grow up in violence,” she continued.
Adams was named a “Star over Longview” for 2018. She serves on the Longview Teen Court Board of Directors, Boys and Girls Club of the Big Pines Board of Governors and on its Longview Council, Delta Kappa Gamma Society International (Kappa Mu president 2018-2020) and is a member of Women in Longview.
And how does she do all these things? She’s “strategic” with her time.
“A beautiful strategy is to include my family members in the activities in which I am invested. My family is my greatest support system,” Adams said.
Despite all her activities, she says she is “very shy.”
“I love to be at home in my bed with a good book! I am really not all that outgoing,” she said.