“I was born in Newport News, [and] I started kindergarten in Virginia Beach. Then I moved to Austin, Texas, and went to four different elementary schools in Austin. Then I went to Ellenboro Elementary School in Ellenboro, North Carolina. Then in the beginning of 10th grade, I moved back to Virginia Beach and graduated from Floyd E. Kellam High School.”
2. What made you pursue a career in education?
“I was home on [military] leave, and one of my very good friends, Dr. Andrea Tottossy, said to me, “Why don’t you come help me with a field trip?” So I went and helped her with the field trip, and she said ‘You know what? I think you should do this. I think you should be a teacher.’ And I think I was a psych major, a sociology major, something like that. I was taking courses when I was in the military. My dad was a psychologist, [so] I thought maybe I’ll be a psychologist. Near the end, I was going to reenlist, but I decided I’d become a teacher. I had some great elementary teachers, and I thought maybe I can have the same impact they did.”
3. Take us through your career thus far as an educator.
“So I got out of the military, went to Old Dominion, finished my undergrad and my master’s there, and I took my first teaching job in Roanoke County at Northside Middle School. That’s how I got to Southwest, Virginia. So we picked up and moved. I did my student teaching in Chesapeake, Virginia, but my wife and I said let’s try something different. So I went to a job fair and that was the first interview I got, so I went out there, interviewed, and I got called the next week. James Wood was the principal, and he called me and he said ‘you’re going to teach world geography, physical science, you’re going to coach girls volleyball and do the yearbook.’ And I was like ‘yes sir.’ So I took the job.
I taught for two years and then left teaching and bought part of a photography business, because I was a trained photographer as well. It was the people who do yearbooks and photography sales. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the sales part. So I did that for about a year and then went back to teaching and taught high school in Roanoke City at a charter school. I taught some information technology classes like animation, and people were still teaching Microsoft Office. I did that for two years in Roanoke City, and then I went from there and taught 8th grade civics at Christiansburg Middle School in Montgomery County.
I went back to Radford University to get my Administrative Endorsement and I applied to Patrick County. There was an Assistant Principal position open at the high school, so I applied thinking I probably wouldn’t take it because it was a pretty far drive; it was about 50 minutes from my house. And they called me on the first day of school in 2006 and they had already started. They said ‘we pulled your application to see if you’d be willing to interview for a principal job for an elementary school.’ At first I thought maybe they’re just interviewing me because they have a slot and they need to interview 3 people. So the next day I had to tell the principal I was leaving early, and I drove down to Stuart, Virginia and I had never been there before. They called the next day and offered me the principal job of a PreK through 7th grade building. 136 kids was all it was. I was there for 2 years, and the superintendent who hired me retired at the end of the year. A new superintendent came in, and he moved me two years later to a larger elementary school. And I was there for five years. It was a great experience; we were a very successful school. We were a Title I Distinguished school, a Governor's Excellence Award winner, [and] we had a wonderful group of educators.
Then the superintendent created an HR position and promoted me to the coordinator of human resources. He then exited and the board had an acting superintendent for about 4 months, so they decided to do a search. In February of 2014, they brought me in and asked if I would serve as Interim, so I took on as Interim and then they went through the process, they hired a firm, but they ended up hiring me. I’ve been superintendent since then. It’s been a great experience, it’s been a lot of work. I took over seven schools, four of which were in an improvement warning by the state.
So now they are going to be accredited four years in a row, they are probably in the 80th to 90th percentile across the board on SOL performance. It’s not just about the tests, that’s our checklist, but I think the quality of instruction and some of the things they have done throughout the county in the last six years has been a catalyst for success … they are one to one K-12, they have a really high bandwidth when it comes to internet access, just a lot of the things they have done. We had a great team of people. Great educators, great leaders who really had the best interest of kids in mind.”
4. What made you interested in seeking the opportunity here in Colonial Heights?
“I have 3 kids; I have a 20 year old at George Mason, then I have a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old, and so when I thought I wanted a change I started looking at places where I would want my kids to go. And when I heard that Dr. Cox was leaving, I started looking at Colonial Heights. He’s been here a long time, and it’s a really successful school division. I like smaller school divisions, I feel like I can build relationships and really get to know people, so I wanted to make sure it was a small division I applied for. So I started the process with Colonial Heights, and I hope to have the same success and time in that Dr. Cox had in Colonial Heights.”
5. Tell me a little bit about your family.
“My daughter is 20 and is considered a junior at George Mason. She’s a forensic science major. Her name is Emma. My 16 year-old Mitchell, he’s in the band, he plays mellophone and trumpet. And my youngest is 13, Benjamin. He plays the bass clarinet. My youngest plays lacrosse, he plays a lot of sports, so he wants to play tennis when he comes. I look forward to being superintendent where my kids are and going to their events, because I missed events because of my commute.”
6. What are you looking forward to most in your new role? What do you think you want to bring to the table here?
“I think when you take a job like this, especially taking over for someone like Dr. Cox, it’s such a great school system. Certainly down the road, you hope to put your own personal spin on something, but I’m not that type of person to come in and change for the sake of change. I think you have to sit back and listen to people. If there’s something that we can improve on, or if we change something because it needs improving, then that’s what we do, but I think that in the meantime I’m just going to sit back and listen to people, and it’s running really well. Dr. Cox is retiring, and I’m fortunate to have been selected as superintendent.”
7. What is something the Colonial Heights community should know about you?
“I wrote three books. The first two books are poetry, but the third book is a memoir about why I became a teacher, it’s about my life and about Ms. Bailey. [Also] that I’m passionate about education and what it can bring and change in people.”
8. What inspires you?
“People who really embrace this profession, people who want to continue to grow every single day. I see people across the country that consistently want to grow every single day. I met a lot of great educators today [in Colonial Heights] that are leaders in this division, and I could tell that they’re excited about what they do, and I could tell they’re really good at what they do just by hanging out with them for an hour. The impact that I think educators have -- and I’m talking about everyone in the building from custodians to principals, bus drivers, everyone in the school district -- that contribute to this work and I think that’s so important.”
9. If we finish this interview and you step outside the office and find a lottery ticket that ends up winning 10 million dollars, what would you do?
“Probably retire, not going to lie. I’m 50 and… the thing is, if I won, I don’t know what I would do. Because I couldn’t sit… I’d go travel or something like that. I think philanthropy, I’d love to do some philanthropy work. I don’t think I would ever step away from K12. I think if I had money I would help drive legislation and that kind of thing, because I really like that kind of work that superintendency brings. I’d love to be at the table for some of the deeper conversations of SOL motivation and all kinds of conversations that involve what the future of K12 may be, and the money might give you the opportunity to do that.
10. What is the funniest thing that happened to you recently?
“I don’t know how recent it was, but I was reading during Dr. Seuss Week; a lot of the schools invite me to read. Reading to Pre-K is always interesting because they’re all talking. God bless Pre-K teachers. But I asked a kid his name and he looked right at me, and he goes ‘I’m Batman.’”