Harrell moves through the ranks while remaining grounded in her faith and mission


Desiree Mack

Ty Harrell completes her first year as pinciapl of Wynton Blount Elementary School. She graduated from Alabama State University in 2008 in the field of education and move progressively through the city school system serving as a teacher, literary coach, instructional leader and an assistant principal. She is a native of Mobile, Ala. and a graduate of John L. LeFlore High School.

Camille Zanders, Alumni Connection Editor

Students are told that ample work experience makes a candidate for a job more attractive to their employer. Students are told to start volunteering, interning, and networking as early as possible so that they can have the most decorated resume in the deck.
Alumna Ty Harrell can attest to the possibilities that come with such enhanced resumes, as her work experience with multiple schools in Montgomery, Ala. along with her intelligence and leadership skills earned her the position of principal of Wynton Blount Elementary School at only 35 years old!
Grateful for her time at Alabama State University and every other stop in her career journey, she says, “I think my path was aligned just the way it was supposed to be.”
Hailing from Mobile, Ala., Harrell grew up as a prodigy of the arts. While being the youngest in her family of four, she attended John L. LeFlore High School where she was extremely active in the school’s magnet program, allowing her opportunities such as piano, theatre, and most importantly, dance.
“I look back on all of that, and I know that those experiences helped me to become the well rounded person I am today,” she said.
Harrell participated in the dance classes that were offered at the school, which led to opportunities to take lessons and perform with the Prima Dance Theatre of Mobile.
She graduated from LeFlore High School in the spring of 2004 with a passion for dance and an academic scholarship to attend Alabama State University. Excited with the idea of going to university that was not far from home, Harrell accepted the scholarship eagerly.
“Once I received that scholarship, I was kind of sold,” she said. “and the fact that it was not too far from Mobile.”
Harrell joined the Hornet family as a biology major with dreams of becoming a physical therapist, but soon reconsidered after being unsatisfied with the curriculum.
“As I completed that first year of college, I just didn’t feel complete,” she says. “I wanted to be a physical therapist since I was a junior in high school, but when I was on the journey towards that, I knew there was something missing,” she said.
She discussed her issue with her advisor, the late Robert Whitfield, who suggested that she consider going into the education field. Considering Harrell enjoyed her experience teaching children to dance while in high school, she decided that education would be the most fulfilling career for her.
“So I switched my major to education and it has been going since then,” Harrell said.
Whitfield would soon become the university staff member that she cherished the most during her Hornet years.
“I feel like God put him in my life for a reason, even if it was just to direct me in the path of education,” she says.
As Harrell pursued her career, Whitfield continued to guide her steps. Not only did he start her journey in the education field, he also coached her through her classes and advised her on how to make the most of her degree after graduating.
While a student, Harrell furthered her childhood passion by becoming a member of the Mighty Marching Hornets as a Stingette. Her skills and grace were undeniable, earning her the title of team captain as a junior in 2006. It was also during this year that she pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. by way of the Beta Eta Chapter.
Harrell’s involvement with these two sisterhoods provided her favorite moments as a Hornet.
“It was a year of becoming … I acquired some great leadership skills and was almost at the end of the finish line! So I was just becoming my own, independent person,” she said. It was the leadership skills and companionship of these organizations that would assist her as she climbed through the ranks of Montgomery Public Schools.
Harrell graduated in 2008 with a degree in education. From there, she began her teaching career at Dannelly Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala., where she taught all subjects to third grade students. While teaching at Dannelly, she also served as the coach and choreographer for the dance team at Jefferson Davis High School.
“I would practice with them, make their costumes, and mentor them,” she said. “I just wanted to be a positive role model.”
She is still proud of her work with those young dancers, as she continues to keep in touch with them to this day.
In 2011, Harrell decided that in order to increase her chances of growing in her field, she would need a graduate degree.
“I knew if I got another degree that I wanted it to be one to give me more choices in what I want to do in the field of education,” she said.
While working full time as a teacher, she enrolled into Auburn University at Montgomery’s graduate program, and graduated with her master’s in instructional leadership in 2012. Due to her ambitious nature, Harrell did not stop there. In 2014, she earned her education specialist degree also in instructional leadership.
Besides her degrees, Auburn University at Montgomery provided Harrell with experiences that allowed her to become a more dynamic person, capable of leading a dynamic student body.
While she appreciates Alabama State University for stressing the sense of black pride and unity in the students, she believes Auburn University at Montgomery gave her the chance to learn how to effectively interact with other ethnicities.
“The diversity looked different because everyone in the room did not look like me,” she says. “Through class debates and class discussions, I learned how to conduct myself with people that do not look like me.”
This ability became crucial in her career as she prides herself on the inclusivity and diversity expressed at her current school, Wynton Blount Elementary School.
From Dannelly Elementary, Harrell went on to teach all across the city. She continued her career at Wares Ferry Road Elementary, then to Chisholm Elementary. As an elementary school instructor, she taught all subjects for first, third, and fifth grade students.
She then took a position as the literary coach at Walter T. Mckee Junior High School.
“I like to think that as far as teaching in Montgomery, I have taught all of Montgomery,” she said.
Harrell believes this experience working with all ages of students is what sets her apart from the average instructor.
“That is why I think the way that I think,” Harrell said. That attributes to the type of instructional leader I am because I have seen what happens at the beginning and the end of a child’s schooling.” Her words reign true, as her diverse instructing career led her to an administrative position at just 28 years old.
Though Harrell enjoyed the middle school experience, she returned to the younger students of Montgomery as the assistant principal of Thelma S. Morris Elementary. Back in her element, Harrell was eager to witness the development of her dewy-eyed elementary students.
“With elementary school, you get to see so many major milestones,” she said. Considering herself a natural nurturer, she believes her elementary students bring out her most loving and fulfilled self.
“You catch them at a time you can really expand on the gifts God has given them,” she said.
Her expertise and work ethic is so respected among the Montgomery Public School System that even during the midst of the pandemic, Harrell was promoted to principal of Wynton Blount Elementary School. Currently in her first year with the position, she prides herself on the way she has effectively conducted her school, governing with transparency and trust between the staff, students, and parents.
Though she is considerably young for such a title, Harrell does not let the power or age dynamic of the workplace affect the way she and her counterparts communicate.
“I am a lifelong learner,” she said. “No matter what the position, I do not come in trying to prove why I am here. I kept my character as I moved up.”
She appreciates the relationship she has created with the veteran teachers. As she aids them in adjusting to the new ways of instructing remotely due to COVID-19, those teachers pass on their years of wisdom.
Because of the pandemic, Harrell has had to put her leadership skills to work early on in the position. As the principal, she knows in order for the school year to run smoothly, all students, parents, and staff members must feel safe at all times.
“The pandemic has allowed that nurturer in me to flourish even more,” she said.
With safety and efficiency being her top priorities, Harrell maintains a calm composure in herself so she can encourage, inspire, and be of full service to any individual of the Wynton Blount community that might need it.
“I have always wanted to be in a position where I could help people, to where I could be of service to others,” she said. Though the pandemic is undoubtedly tragic, she believes she is in the right place at the right time.
To keep herself uplifted, Harrell turns to the higher power that granted her this title.
“Before anything I do in this position, I pray about it and ask for guidance. That allows me to trust myself,” she said.
Not only does God offer her mental strength, she also credits Him for giving her the qualities of being resilient and a hard worker, two characteristics that has led to her success in the field.
“I am not going to say that I do not have my moments where I am discouraged or get down on myself,” she said, “but there is always a bounce back; and when I bounce back, I always come back a little harder than when I left.”
These qualities are what motivates Harrell to continue to strive to make this year the best it can possibly be for her students.
Due to the pandemic, many school events have been cancelled. Though she understands the necessity, Harrell does not want to strip the children of their, supposed to be, magical elementary years. She has been looking for ways to encourage school morale, but in a safe way.
Acknowledging the importance of parent-teacher relationships, she expresses, “I just want to open up ways we can promote family engagement.”
She shared her ideas having a drive-in or virtual movie night so the Wynton Blount community can become as unified as possible.
Though it can be tough at times, Harrell’s work has not been in vain, as she has maintained excellent attendance and merit amongst students, while also keeping COVID-19 scares at the bare minimum.
When not at the school, Harrell enjoys spending her free time with her loved ones, especially her six year old son.
“I am a very family oriented woman,” she said. “They are my ‘who,’ ‘what,, and ‘why. My family is the compass that guides me through the journey of life. Their ability to provide love, comfort and support is an inspiration to me and my life’s work.”
Just as she does to her elementary community, Harrell extends her nurturing spirit to the students of ASU in the form of advice.
To individuals hoping to pursue a career in education, she suggests they find opportunities to shadow teachers in the classroom before the required internship period.
“Take those observation hours seriously so you can get a feel for what it is like before it is too late,” she said.
She shares that teaching is a job that has high highs, and extremely low lows, and a student should see all aspects of the job before committing. “Teaching is a rewarding job, but may not be everyone’s cup of tea.”
She urges all students to learn the serenity prayer.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” she encourages.
Knowing the obstacles will appear in any profession, she hopes this prayer will guide these young adults with the growing pains that come with adulthood. Most of all, she advises that students share their gifts and talents for good because at some point and somewhere in the world, they will be called for greatness.