Felts honored for his work in public education
Published 8:10 pm Saturday, November 11, 2023
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of seven articles, each highlighting one of the 2023 inductees to the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence.
The Franklin Community Wall of Excellence gained eight new names via its 2023 class.
Those names included Travis W. Felts, Carolyn and Waverly Lawrence, David T. Lease, Clyde E. Parker, Frank M. Rabil, Jennifer Sing and Mona M. Sumblin.
The seventh annual Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Induction Dinner and Ceremony took place Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Cypress Cove Country Club.
As noted in the event’s program, through the vision of some local Franklin City Public Schools alumni and school personnel, the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Inc. was established in 2016 as a program to honor former Franklin and Hayden high school students, administrators, teachers and staff who have excelled or distinguished themselves through personal and/or professional success, as well as to recognize those community members who have made significant contributions to the public schools in Franklin.
“The Wall” is located at Franklin High School, adjacent to the gymnasium, a Wall of Excellence news release stated. Names and photos of each inductee are displayed for generations of Franklin High School students and community members to see as they walk by on their way to class or an event at FHS.
Felts was inducted onto the wall in the category of Outstanding Career.
The induction dinner/ceremony’s printed program noted that he is a 1991 graduate of Franklin High School, and he has been principal of the school since 2012.
He developed his own education in the ’90s and early 2000s, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Virginia Tech in 1995 and a master’s degree in education from Old Dominion University in 2007. In 2009, from Cambridge College, he earned his Certificate of Advanced Educational Studies in Educational Leadership.
Felts’ experience in the field of education began in the ’90s. He taught in Campbell and Isle of Wight counties and then returned in 1998 to the division he attended, Franklin City Public Schools, serving as a health, physical education and driver’s education teacher.
“He has been an important part of Franklin City Public Schools for the past 25 years,” Wall of Excellence officials stated in the event program.
Felts has served in all three schools of the division, as well as in the central office, where he was the coordinator of pupil instruction, testing and instruction.
He has also been the coach of several high school athletic teams.
It was in 2009 that he began his journey in the administrative realm of education, serving as assistant principal at Joseph P. King Jr. Middle School.
Later, he became the assistant principal at FHS and then principal.
Continuing its description of Felts, the event program noted that he chose education as a career because of “his belief in the importance of public education and his love of helping young people achieve success.”
“He has lovingly dedicated his career to the students of Franklin, and he takes pride in the many accomplishments he has been able to be a part of during his time with FCPS,” Wall of Excellence officials stated in the program.
Felts’ diligence and success have led to other opportunities in education. He serves on the boards of several professional organizations, like the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Additionally, he has been a part of several committees for FCPS, the city of Franklin and the Virginia High School League.
The Franklin Lions Club made a point to honor Felts earlier this year, presenting him with the Charity Award for Public Service.
Felts lives in Franklin and is active in his community. He is a member of Franklin Baptist Church and serves there as a deacon.
He is married to Kristin Felts, who serves as a teacher in Isle of Wight County, and they have three daughters, one of whom graduated from FHS in 2021 and the other two of whom currently attend there.
Franklin City School Board Chairman Robert Holt introduced Felts at the induction dinner and ceremony, citing some of the information listed previously.
“I want to close with just a quote from one of the faculty members at Franklin High School,” Holt said, noting that this teacher has repeated this to him several times. “‘I live 50 miles away from Franklin High School. I’ve been offered a job within two blocks of my home. … Every year they offer me that job. I drive to Franklin because I want to work for Travis.’”
Holt concluded by saying, “Need I say more? Travis, thank you.”
Felts opened by thanking everyone in the packed Cypress Cove Country Club dining room for coming, specifically recognizing his family and extended family.
To all in attendance, he said, “I’m sure I speak for all the inductees by saying it means a lot that you gave up your time to come tonight. Congratulations to all the inductees.
“Speaking for myself, I feel just honored and humbled to be on the program with some of these names,” he said. “And if you look back at previous years, I’m not even sure I should be on the list with some of these people. But I’m thankful.
“When you look back at those that have been inducted, it’s a very impressive list and a testament to Franklin City Public Schools and the caliber of talent that has either graduated or contributed to Franklin High School or Hayden High School,” he added.
He noted having recognized people in the audience who were school administrators when he was a student at FHS.
“Mr. (Samuel B.) Jones was my principal,” he said. “He is the man who gave me my diploma from Franklin High School, so I definitely want to recognize him. Thank you for being here tonight, Mr. Jones.”
Felts said, “So many of the people here tonight were my school administrators, teachers, coaches, colleagues, students, friends, and I definitely wouldn’t be here tonight without their wisdom and support. Everyone who came tonight and many people who could not come have supported, mentored, guided and just put up with me over the years that I’ve been in Franklin City Public Schools.”
He noted that he is in his 12th year as principal at Franklin High School, “which I still believe is my calling. I love it most days.
“It’s been said before, ‘If you follow your passion, you will never work a day in your life.’ I don’t think that’s true, though …” he said, pausing as laughter erupted in the room, “ … because it is my passion, but it’s work seven days a week. It’s enjoyable work, it’s enjoyable and it’s rewarding. The job is challenging on the good days and overwhelming on other days. But the great thing about FHS is we are a family, I can truly say that.”
He said the school has an outstanding team that includes its students, staff, teachers and administrators.
“It’s a blessing that I get to come to work with them every day,” he said.
FELTS’ PERSPECTIVE ON PUBLIC EDUCATION
He noted that he wanted to spend the rest of his acceptance speech sharing his perspective on public education, both in general and especially in the context of the city of Franklin.
“Demands and pressures on our schools are growing,” he said. “Our educators no longer are tasked with just teaching their subject. In many cases, we have to be quasi-mental health professionals, social workers, mediators of conflict that is brought to the school from the community and social media.
“Educators are required to take on parental responsibilities, and at times we have to navigate a polarized political climate,” he continued. “In the past few years, we’ve dealt with the COVID pandemic, chronic absenteeism, online learning, transgender policies and an explosion in the mental health crisis, teenage depression, stress and anxiety. Parental rights and an increase in teenage suicide have also been recent challenges.
“And this is not meant to sound like a list of complaints, because we all signed up for this,” he said. “We do sign a contract every year or a piece of paper that says we’re coming back.
“But in this age of accountability in education, with everything riding on SOL scores and other measures of determining accreditation, these factors — that I’ve mentioned sometimes are out of our control — have to be addressed before we can even get to teaching reading, writing, math, history, science and other subjects,” he continued. “For school divisions that have a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, like Franklin City Public Schools, these challenges are magnified.”
He indicated that school safety is a daily concern, both in Franklin and across the country.
“Schools spend large portions of their budget and much of their time trying to ‘make sure the unthinkable never happens at our school,’” he said. “We now have school resource officers, school security officers, weapons detectors, metal detectors, systems to screen visitors and systems just to make sure that all the doors are locked throughout the day.
“These are all things that when I was at Franklin High School in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I’m sure there were challenges, but maybe not all the things that we’re having to work with now,” he added.
Then he continued with the list of things that those in the education field work with currently.
“We’ve been trained to de-escalate, we’ve been trained for conflict resolution, how to run, hide and fight — (Franklin Police) Chief (Steve) Patterson taught us that — if we have an intruder or an active shooter in the building,” he said. “We are required to practice lockdown drills, active shooter drills, school evacuation drills, bus evacuation drills and develop elaborate crisis management plans for every possibility imaginable.”
He said FHS has unannounced K-9 searches for drugs and weapons, and there are safety drills at least monthly.
“Again, this is before we get to teach the curriculum that our students need to learn to have a chance of success in life,” he said.
“Public educators face challenges with classroom management, class size, parents whose first response is to support their child even when they’re wrong, budget cuts, increased workload, high-stakes testing, a lack of respect for the profession by so many in our society as demonstrated by the embarrassing amount that we pay teachers, and unrealistic expectations from some in authority,” he said.
“So we wonder sometimes why we have a teacher shortage, and our first thought lots of times is the amount of money that teachers make,” he continued. “And that is part of the problem and reason that many of our best and brightest do not consider majoring in education in college.
“But the teachers who I know in the profession, however, that leave the profession or decide to retire earlier than they really have to, they point to the different challenges that I’ve laid out and just feeling not appreciated all the time by society and not treated like they’re professionals,” he said.
He then stated that people in education leadership positions are sometimes the worst at treating teachers like professionals.
“We’re the worst when it comes to top-down leadership, having top-heavy central office oversight and control — and that can reduce the amount of money that we pay teachers and hire — and just listening to the teachers, the ones who are in the trenches every day working in the classroom,” he said.
“I’m proud to say at Franklin High School, we do have a high teacher and staff retention rate, and I think one of the reasons is because our administrators at the building level and at central office support them,” he added. “Their job is challenging enough without us adding to the challenges.”
Alluding to that long list of challenges, he then said, “Despite all of this and more, I still believe in public education and the importance it has in our democracy. Our democracy needs, or actually demands, informed citizens. It is critically important for the students themselves but also our country.
“Education enables its citizens to develop their full potential, which enables our democracy to flourish,” he continued. “It’s about both helping individuals learn and grow, and creating a successful and prosperous society.
“Our nation has become a leading voice for democracy in the world and one of the world’s wealthiest nations in large part because of public education,” he said. “In my view, education is the foundation of all opportunity in America. Every other profession is made possible by the work of a teacher and the learning that takes place in his or her classroom.”