Lightning can come in a bottle
Principal Dr. Mark Wilson says goodbye to MCHS
story by kathryn schiliro
file photos by angelina bellebuono
The end of this week will conclude Dr. Mark Wilson's nine years as principal of Morgan County High School.
Since the school year's concluded and he presided over his last graduation ceremony in May, Wilson's been working with MCHS teacher Dr. Jim Malanowski, preparing him for his role as the school's interim principal. He's packed up, wrapped up year-end work and helped out with next year's "Pursuits," the annually updated book outlining MCHS's framework and operations, its awards and accomplishments as well as a kind-of biography of the school.
Asked what memories he will cherish, Wilson is happier about the daily accomplishments of teachers and students more so than the larger accolades the school's received in his nine years including, but not limited to, being named four times as one of "America's Best High Schools" in Jay Matthews' Annual Challenge Index in The Washington Post; having booming International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs; an 80 percent-plus graduation rate since 2006; and, of course, Wilson's being named the 2009 MetLife Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals’ Principal of the Year and then the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Principal of the Year.
"What I'll always remember are the less heralded things," Wilson said. "Students who overcame great adversity to be successful– it's very rewarding to know so many of those (stories). So many (students) were not on the road to graduation but did it. (Seeing students overcome) academic situations, personal troubles, it's been really rewarding to see those successes."
He also considers bringing people together – whether students, faculty, parents, the community – one of the greatest successes he witnessed while at the helm of MCHS.
"It's much more simple to do things by yourself," he said. "It's much more difficult to do things in a group. We've come together to do big things."
In fact, he recalls one of the teachers telling him he "squeezed every last bit of life out of the teachers," but all for a worthy cause– academic success.
"The majority of teachers at the high school would be Teachers of the Year in other systems," Wilson said. "We really have good teachers. That's what makes for the difference."
"This is not hype or promotion. What we have (at MCHS) is truly special," Wilson said. "It doesn't happen everywhere."
He calls it "lightning in a bottle."
"Much of our identification as individuals is wrapped up in where we work or, for students, where we go to school," Wilson said. "The giving hearts our people had– students helping out fellow students, teachers preparing students, parents and the community giving so much to the school. People really have to believe in something to give to it. And it's not something teenages naturally do, taking the focus off themselves. It became the norm at our place... For our community to be receptive to new ideas, for parents to be so warm in how they receive teachers... people ask how to do this. What we've done is the product of all these pieces coming together."
He admits his departure is bittersweet – "It's been a great job," he said – but is excited to see where this next phase of his career will take him.
He's leaving MCHS to pursue a personal goal of presiding over his own Educational Leadership Group. He's already penciled in speaking engagements in Louisana, Alabama and as far away as Michigan.
"I'm very encouraged and blessed that I have a lot of days booked to speak to groups," Wilson said.
He will help states and Georgia's own Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESAs) build cohorts of principals and he's signed on to aid the Georgia Department of Education implement the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI), a replacement for the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measure.
To check out more about Wilson's Educational Leadership Group, visit www.markwilsoneducation.com.
"I'm looking forward to that, going around Georgia and spending time with educators," Wilson said. "I'll take a little of Morgan County with me. Who doesn't want unity, commitment, excellence? It encourages people."
"Being a free agent is exciting after being in school then working in school," Wilson said.
And Wilson has a long resume when it comes to school. Prior to his nine years at MCHS where he was both principal and a teacher, Wilson was a Freshman Academy administrator at Palmetto High School in South Carolina for three years; at Gettys Middle School in Easley, S.C.; at Pickens High School, also in South Carolina, as a teacher and coach for nine years; at Pendleton High School; and at the Clemson University Athletic Department.
"You get something from that (teaching) you can't really replace," Wilson said. "I will miss working with teenagers but I'll still be teaching, the audience will just be a little older."
But this new gig has him giving 60-minute speeches to 300 people one day, running a three-day leadership retreat another, and speaking to 30 educators in a class on another.
"The variety is exhilarating," Wilson said.
Still, he marvels at his time spent at MCHS.
"Over the nine years, I guess I handed out about 2,000 diplomas," Wilson said. "I'm just proud of all those kids that came through. Every year students at the school would add on to who we were, who we would become. Each day, each year someone added something, continuing to make us even better."
And now it's Wilson's turn to cross the stage.
"Jim Malanowski is a fine man," Wilson said. "He's smart, undestands 'One Morgan,' loves kids and is a champion for teachers."
Printed in the June 28, 2012 edition