JJ Wahl

Heard County Recognizes Principals During National Principals Month

Each October, National Principals Month recognizes the essential role that school principals play in making schools and the entire education system function properly. Long hours, the weight of supporting an entire student body and faculty, and consistently maintaining positive communications with parents and the community are just some of the stressors that principals face. However, principals are some of the least recognized individuals in the education profession. So National Principals Month was created by several education organizations in order to properly honor those who take on this difficult job. “Honoring our principals is important because they work tirelessly to help the children in our community grow and achieve,” said Heard County School Superintendent Rodney Kay.

Heard County principals were selected because of their ability to serve the students and lead teachers toward consistent professional improvement. “Our principals are on the frontlines everyday supporting our students and teachers,” added Kay. “Each of them has been a blessing to their school and to the children of Heard County.” The importance of schools having quality leadership has been even more apparent during the COVID pandemic, as schools were required to meet state guidelines and each principal had to do everything in their power to keep students safe and focused on learning. 

Centralhatchee Elementary principal Ken Wiggins is in his first year at that position, after serving the previous five years as an assistant principal at Heard County Elementary School and Heard County Middle School. Wiggins believes that the qualities required of a principal are a servant's heart, a love of children, and a desire to work with others as a team. During the COVID outbreak, Wiggins has worked to make the educational setting as normal as possible, while being conscious of having procedures in place in an attempt to keep people safe and healthy. 

Wiggins also works hard to maintain the core values of the Heard County School System. “I often fall short in each area, but I try to model our values,” stated Wiggins.”I want to treat people with respect and be a positive influence to them.” Along with his wife Angela, Wiggins has served as an educator in Heard County since 1994. Both of their children are graduates of Heard County High School. “We are blessed to be a part of a great system of people that care about students and the HC community,” added Wiggins.

In 2017, Melanie Brooks took over as principal of Ephesus Elementary School, after serving seven years as an assistant principal in Carrollton City Schools. According to Brooks, staying connected is the key to becoming an excellent school leader. “Principals need to connect with students and families to gain an understanding of their world outside of school,” said Brooks. “They also need to stay connected with new and innovative instructional strategies, and with what students see as engaging and fun when it comes to what they learn.” As with all schools, Ephesus has been impacted by the class time missed by students during COVID. Brooks combats this by prioritizing catching students up after they have been out, and thus avoiding long term learning gaps. 

Brooks attributes any success she has had as a school leader to a high energy level and a desire to make everyone feel valued and welcomed. “I am here to serve and work alongside my staff and students,” shared Brooks. “I want to be connected, relevant, and inspire others everyday. Christ is my guide and my help in all that I do.” Despite spending most of her career in education outside of Heard County, Brooks is very happy with where her career has taken her. “I know all of my students, families and of course my wonderful staff,” claimed Brooks, “We are family. We care for, encourage, and love each other. There is no other place I would want to be the principal.”

Heard County Elementary School principal Kim Tisdale accepted the position this year after serving as an assistant principal for five years at the school. Tisdale believes a good principal should be a good listener, be able to communicate effectively, and show that they truly care  about the whole child and whole teacher. The biggest challenge Tisdale faced during the COVID outbreak is covering classes when there were not enough substitute teachers, as well as the instruction missed by students when they were out of school. 

Tisdale accepts that the success she has had in her short time as principal has been because of her willingness to get in the trenches with the faculty, and also her ability to build strong relationships through being a good listener and compassionate to the needs of others. Since moving with her husband Brent (who serves as Director of Student Services for the Heard County School System) and three children from Gwinnett County in 2016, Tisdale has immersed herself in her school and the Heard County community. “I love what this county stands for,” shared Tisdale. “Our school board and county office care about the students and staff, and everyone works their hardest to make sure our children succeed.”

Brian Hadley has served as principal of Heard County Middle School since 2015. Prior to taking on that role, Hadley served as a coach and math teacher at Heard County High School and an assistant principal at Heard County Middle School. Hadley believes the traits required to be a good principal are fair, hardworking, honest, truthful, caring, organized, passionate, and ambitious. While he is consistently trying to grow and improve as a leader, Hadley believes he possesses qualities such as being hardworking, caring, thought-provoking, empathetic, an instructional leader, and honest.

During the COVID pandemic, Hadley has accepted the challenge of being able to keep students safe, but at the same time allowing them to experience school the way adolescents should. Additionally, Hadley believes that it is important to continue to improve the overall student achievement and culture of the school when there are so many uncertainties. Hadley and his wife Kelly, a Heard County Elementary School teacher, chose Heard County because its culture is what they want for their family. “Heard County is a place where I can grow and develop as a leader,” stated Hadley. “I also felt that there were many kids who would be growing up in situations and conditions that were similar to my childhood experiences. I was poor, hardworking, respectful, and eager to learn.”

Heard County High School principal J.J. Wahl was promoted to the position in 2020 after serving four years as an assistant principal at Heard County Middle School. Wahl has learned that being a good principal means admitting that you don’t know everything. “I am not too proud to admit when I don't know the answer,” said Wahl. “That is a key quality of any good leader, along with integrity, honesty, patience, being forgiving, truthful, unselfish, dedicated, and having a genuine love for people.” During the COVID crisis, Wahl has led his faculty to work hard to create an atmosphere where students want to be at school and do the things they need to stay safe and healthy. 

Wahl, his wife Ginger, and their five children, are glad to be part of the Heard County School System. “There is a strong sense of family and pride in Heard County and I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of it,” claimed Wahl. “I appreciate the fact that our leaders use their faith as the foundation of how they lead. That is what sets us apart from so many other school systems.”