Building Administrators Making a Difference in Georgia Education - Alan Long
Alan Long is Principal at Jefferson County High School in Louisville GA. He began his teaching career as a coach and PE teacher 28 years ago, and has served as a school administrator for 10 years. Alan raised his two sons as a single parent, and is proud of the fact both of them volunteered for military service after high school. “They took my ideas of service to another level” he said, “and I am very proud of their accomplishments.” He was elected to serve as President of the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders. Under Alan’s leadership GASSP has placed finalists in the NASSP High School and Middle School Principal of the Year process 6 of the last 8 years. He was encouraged by a former Principal to become an administrator, and took the opportunity to serve and learn with a strong building leader. He immediately saw the positive effects a good leader could have working with teachers and students, and making a difference through leadership quickly became his passion.
Louisville GA is 48 miles southeast of Augusta, and lies between the arms of Interstates 20 and 65. The city served as the state capitol from 1796 to 1806, and contains a little over 2700 citizens. Jefferson County HS is a Title I school, has 848 students enrolled, employs 72 teachers and a total staff of 106. The FRL rate is 88%, indicative of the high poverty rates often found in rural Georgia areas, and the graduation rate is 69%. “Our ultimate goal is 100% graduation - a diploma for every student regardless of whether they can do it in 4 years or 7 years” said Dr. Long. “I am most proud of the individual successes of students that society had given up on and our teachers were able to get them through to a diploma” he continued. “We don’t give up on them because they don’t count in our graduation rate. Our relationships with students that were the hardest to reach are often the ones my teachers and I remember most.”
When Alan hires teachers he tries to look through them to see their heart. “I look for those that can build relationships and have a passion for helping students succeed. Anybody can learn content, but not every teacher has the mental toughness that will keep them from giving up on a student. That’s one key to our success at JCHS.” Alan insists that teachers model the behaviors they expect to see in students, and believes that the best way to evaluate teacher growth is through frequent observations, peer mentoring and their willingness to try new ideas rather than simply stick to what they already know. “Teacher growth is just as important as student growth” he noted, “and the modeling I want to see from teachers includes constant learning and questioning and looking for new and better ways to do what we do. Teachers learning from other teachers is a powerful weapon for our school and makes a difference in the lives of our students.”
Dr. Long’s teachers appreciate that he is approachable, strives for consistency in his decision making and values his relationships with teachers, parents, students and the community. “I think everyone in the community has my cell number” he observed, “and I believe that means they value my ideas and advice.” Dr. Molly Howard is the Jefferson County Schools Superintendent, and was Principal of JCHS before Alan. She was named GASSP Principal of the Year in 2008, and went on to become the NASSP National Principal of the Year. Molly knows what qualities an outstanding building administrator needs to possess, and could have chosen almost anyone to take her place at JCHS when she became Superintendent of Schools. “Alan knows the secret to being a great educational leader” she said. “If you just watch him interact with his students, parents and staff, you will know his secret to success. Alan is genuinely concerned for and about each individual life he touches, and people feel it instantly. He is an authentic leader who builds student success through building relationships. Students know immediately that he is in their corner and will offer them opportunities to be successful. Alan has a moral purpose for the work he does. He walks the talk every day and in every situation.”
“Effective leadership is service” continued Dr. Long, “and serving the community means a lot more than just issuing directives to teachers and students.” Service is the keystone of Alan’s leadership, and he believes politicians often miss the important role that public schools play in the life of small communities. “Our schools are here to educate children” he noted, “but we also serve a central role in the social fabric of our community that often goes unseen by people that don’t live here. Our sports programs draw big crowds, band and chorus concerts are well attended, many groups use our facilities after hours and on weekends and our schools are important to our town in many ways. People with no children in school still attend many of our events, and they understand the importance of education to our local economy and to every citizen in Louisville. Our schools serve as integral parts of the community.”
Alan and his staff at JCHS have worked hard to implement Common Core standards in math and ELA. “CC has some strengths that will help children, and I like the rigor that helps prepare students for college and careers. I do think that states should have the authority to customize parts of the CC to meet the needs of specific geographical areas and communities, and would like to see teachers have a strong role in writing those customizations.” He believes that one of the key omissions in many state policies has been not using experienced teachers as part of the process. “Too often” Alan said, “teachers’ ideas and opinions about what works and what doesn’t work in education are not sought or included. That’s a mistake on the part of policy makers that a good school leader would never make. Seeking the advice of experts is always a wise move, and our policy makers don’t always follow that advice when it comes to education.”
The teachers and students at JCHS know they have an exceptional leader in Dr. Long, and were quick to point out their faith in his leadership. Raley is a Senior at JCHS, and said
“Dr.Long has several qualities that make a huge difference to and for students. He is very genuine and invests in the lives of students at our school. I do work based learning and he constantly asks about my job and the children I work with. He also tries to make sure all students have a place in the school and that they are striving to do big things.” She also noted Dr. Long’s Student Leadership group is making a difference in many ways. “Dr.Long has assisted me in many situations, but I think the one I will carry with me forever is our Student Leadership group. It consists of several representatives from each grade level. This organization always gives us a voice about things we want to see done or changed.. I have learned so many valuable things from his guidance in Student Leadership.”
One of the teachers at JCHS said “our school climate is one in which relationship-building is a top priority. Students not only need to feel safe at school, but need to feel safe taking risks in the classroom. When students trust the adults in the building to have their best interest in mind, students are more willing to take risks, raise their hand and ask a question when they don't understand something. When conflict does occur, students are treated with respect and dignity.”
Another teacher observed “Many parents had less than the best experiences when they were going through school, and feel intimidated when entering the building. We understand this and try to help parents overcome this obstacle. Dr. Long is passionate about our school and the community it serves. Students are drawn to Dr. Long's encouraging personality. He also stays current in educational research and often shares articles, thoughts and ideas with our staff.”
An Instructional Coach at JCHS observed "Very few administrators put the health and welfare of students above test scores, but Dr. Alan Long cares about students as people, not test scores or data points. He certainly realizes the importance of testing and data analysis, but it is not what drives him. His love for his school, community, and students is apparent to any and all who work with him."
A high school Senior summed up her feelings about her school and Dr. Long by saying “If I had to describe JCHS in one word I would say family. Just like in a regular family Jefferson County High School isn't perfect, there are problems occasionally, however, through these issues our school only grows stronger. When a person from our school hurts we all hurt. When a person from our school exceeds in something we feel as if we have all succeeded. Being a Warrior is something special and unless you are one or have been one it's something that can't really be described. As our school football coach always says after games, "It's great to be from Jefferson County, but even better to be a Warrior."Dr. Alan Long, through personal, exceptional leadership, makes all that possible, and in doing so underscores the singular importance of schools to communities, and reinforces the fact that there’s more to education and learning than curriculum.