Day in the Life of Ana Callahan
With the release of book 2 in my series happening this summer, here’s a replay of a guest post I did on Dru Ann Love’s blog last fall when book 1 debuted. It depicts a Day in the Life of Ana Callahan, the local gal who left Moccasin Cove fifteen years earlier to save the world—one failing school at a time. In ChainLinked, Book 1 in the Moccasin Cove Mystery Series, Ana has come back home to rescue her childhood elementary from state closure.
My typical workday starts when I creep onto campus under the cover of darkness just to get a thing or two done before the whirlwind kicks in. But that doesn’t stop the interlopers from interrupting my first sip of coffee from the office pot. Hot, half and half, no sugar. The coffee, not the interlopers.
Eighty-something, Miss Etha, is usually the first caller. The neighborhood snoop occupies the front corner lot in her trailer across the street, ever ready with her laundry list of complaints about some aspect of my leadership at the island’s failing elementary school. Considering I’ve only been the principal of Moccasin Cove Elementary for six months, I bristle at hearing about problems from years past. But when you’re a hometown girl whose been gone fifteen years saving the world, it’s kinda your job to suck it up and smile. Just like momma taught me.
By the time Miss Etha’s diatribe winds down I’ve reviewed my to-do list and cranked open the Jalousie window by my desk to let in the cool salt-tinged breeze from the Gulf of Mexico. I gently touch the framed drawing of crooked red hearts and say hello to Sheneece. I feel my balance return as the first grader smiles back at me from her photo, tucked next to the hearts she drew for me with crayons she salvaged from the trash can. Sheneece and a thousand kids like her remind me of my mission. Rescuing failing schools. Returning bright futures to the students and their communities.
When I got the call to come home to Moccasin Cove, I’d been traveling for fifteen years. I’d helped ten failing schools in impoverished communities across the country and built up a reputation as a turnaround principal. I had job offers lined up for the next fifteen years, but my hometown school was failing. Fast. Triage was needed or state closure would shutter the historic campus. I reluctantly agreed. Not because I don’t love my hometown, but because I’ve never reconciled the grief locked in my heart over the loss of my fiancé. When Josh died in Afghanistan, I ran away, shoved my pain deep inside, and dedicated my life to my work. Nothing more.
It didn’t take long to see the reason for the school’s slide into the failure zone. Moccasin Cove Elementary and the island town it was named for were stuck in a tsunami of economic chaos that started with the closure of the largest local employer a decade earlier. Those with skills fled for the mainland and all points north. That left everyone else behind. Unemployment rates and the associated social maladies skyrocketed. Our students range in age from five to twelve years old and have never known stability or lack of want—the exact opposite of my middle-class Moccasin Cove childhood. Carefree days of sun, surf, sand, and academic focus put me on the path to achievement. I want nothing less for the students there now.
Last July, the second I came home, I put my gameplan into action and we’ve chalked up a few small victories this first semester of school. Now, six-months into the turnaround, the school is on an even keel, and I’m feeling skeptically optimistic that this flip will be a success when the state test scores come out in June. Well, I was feeling it, but as most school principals will tell you, “Nothing’s ever easy in public education.” Instead of shoring up my exit plans for next summer, Fate has decided to commandeer my to-do list:
Fight the unexpected challenge for control of Moccasin Cove Elementary by Doo-Well Charter Schools Incorporated. If I lose, the powerhouse corporation will fire the entire faculty and the students will be bussed off-island to an unfamiliar campus staffed with strangers.
Untangle the emotions in my heart and mind that can’t reconcile the love I still feel for my deceased fiancé with that undeniable connection to Mac Campbell, the retired Air Force Colonel in charge of school security, who is the first man I’ve let get under my skin since Josh died.
Solve the tragic murder of a kind young man who worked at my school, to prove the innocence of an old friend, without getting myself fired or killed in the process.
So, that’s my new normal. I hear the learning curve on solving murder is steep. Until I can check all three items off my list, I’ll have a little more homework than usual, and less time to ride my trailbike through the mangroves and along the beaches. But right now, I hear the school busses pulling up out front along with that whirlwind I was telling you about. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you get a chance to come down to the Cove sometime soon. You’ll find folks to be friendly, in their own endearing and quirky manner. And if you come by on the weekend, I’ll treat you to some coffee and hot Citrus Blossoms at the Orange Blossom Cafe.