Rivera was principal at South Cobb High School and Campbell High School before leaving to become principal at Westlake High School in 2011. He’s raised test scores and graduation rates at each stop, and plans to do so on a broader scale in his new role in Cobb.
“I think Cobb County has incredible potential,” Rivera said. “Our school district and county is a place where families move because they believe they can get a quality education. At the same time, there has been some instability, and my hope is to bring a degree of stability and innovation to the school district.”
Rivera was named to the position Thursday, when Cobb Interim Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announced his seven-member executive cabinet. In the role, Rivera directly oversees five area assistant superintendents, who in turn work with the 114 principals in the Cobb School District.
“My role is to support principals as they look to achieve a degree of consistent improvement and increase student achievement,” Rivera said. “I’ll be supporting our district as we look at processes to help our principals lead.”
Quick rise to leadership
Rivera taught at McEachern High School from 1999 to 2002 and was an assistant principal there from 2002 to 2005. In the fall of 2005, Rivera became principal of South Cobb High. During his time as principal at South Cobb and Campbell, both schools were removed from “needs improvement” status under No Child Left Behind, and Campbell’s graduation rate jumped 6 percent.
In his three years at Westlake, which is located in southwest Fulton County, the graduate rate jumped 12.5 percent. Chris Lennon, a parent volunteer at Westlake, attributes the jump to Rivera’s hard work and dedication.
“He had a challenging first year with teachers and some staff there that were not on board,” said Lennon, who works for a search firm called Marquin Group. “He’s done an incredible job in terms of bringing in staff that are passionate about kids. He has a new staff now that has been extremely effective and highly collaborative. The first thing he did was bring in talent.”
Lennon said Westlake’s SAT scores also rose 140 points on average during Rivera’s tenure, from 1,280 to 1,420.
“We’re happy for him because he’s taking a big step and he’ll do good things in Cobb County,” said Lennon. “He’s helped us to change our culture and I think that’s what’s remarkable. (Cobb County) is getting a valuable prize. He’s one of the best educators I’ve ever seen, bar none.”
Rivera said the nine years he spent as a school principal left him with a lot of respect for the work of administrators.
“A day in the life of a principal can be challenging,” said Rivera. “A principal can be everything from an instructional leader to a custodian to the mayor of a small town.”
Ready to lead
Rivera’s philosophy on leadership is that you hire the best people, give them the tools they need and then stay out of their way and let them do their job.
“My job as principal was to make sure we were getting the improvement we all agree should be expected,” said Rivera. “As it pertains to graduation rates, there are some very specific steps you can take. Some involve engaging students and families; other steps involve paperwork.”
The path to the education field started at a young age for Rivera. His father, Phil, was a teacher and his brother, John, had a major brain disability. Thus, Rivera spent three years in the classroom teaching special education before moving into administration.
“After I got into education as a teacher, I was inspired to go to school leadership to make an impact on a broader level,” said Rivera.
Rivera said he’s not yet sure of his exact salary in the new role. Cheryl Hungerford, who held the position most similar to Rivera’s before Ragsdale shuffled the cabinet, made $139,875 in 2013. Rivera made $117,097 in 2013 as principal at Westlake. Rivera’s wife, Jenn Hobby, is an Atlanta radio personality who used to appear on the Bert Show on Q100 and now is a midday host on Kicks 101.5.
The Grant Rivera file
• Family: wife, Jennifer Rivera; daughter, Lauren, age one.
• Residence: Atlanta
• Career stops: McEachern High School, special education teacher, assistant principal; South Cobb High School, principal; Campbell High School, principal; Westlake High School (Fulton County), principal.
• Number of years in education: 15
• Education: Northwestern University, B.S. Education and Social Policy; University of Alabama, M.Ed. Special Education; University of West Georgia, Ed.S. Educational Leadership; University of Alabama, Ph.D. Education
• Church: Episcopal Church of the Epiphany
• Hobbies: Spending time with family, college football, triathlons