Adams got the nod from new Interim Superintendent Chris Ragsdale on May 29, joining a seven-member executive cabinet and bearing the title of interim chief operations officer.
Adams will make $132,000 in his new role. The former human relations chief, Michael Shanahan, made $129,958 in 2013.
“My goal is to make this the best human resources department in the state,” Adams said. “I think I may be the only person in the state who’s been on both sides of the human resources table, defending teachers, as well as working in human resources.”
For Adams, the move marks the second time he’s made the jump between representing employees and representing their employer. Fifteen years into his career with Cobb schools, Adams left his job as director of employee relations in 2011 to found Educators First, a non-union teachers’ organization based in Kennesaw and boasting almost 2,000 members.
Adams said his experience defending teachers through Educators First will be a credit to his human resources work, rather than a detriment.
“I think I’ll be able to relate better to teachers because I understand their concerns and their perspective,” he said. “It gives me a more balanced view of things.”
Connie Jackson is president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, a group similar to Educators First. She hopes Adams avoids any bias toward or against teachers in his new position.
“I think the fact that he has been on the other side could actually be beneficial because he’s seen how hard it is for employees when they’re treated unfairly,” she said. “I hope that experience would make him an aware and sensitive human resources director.”
One idea Jackson said Adams has floated is monthly meetings between himself and teacher organizations such as Educators First, the Cobb County Association of Educators and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
Jackson said she likes the idea. She said the important thing for all sides to work toward is fair and equitable treatment of teachers.
Educators First is replacing Adams with Tommy Stephens, a retired school superintendent from Union County, which in north Georgia near the border with North Carolina.
Teacher morale must be improved, Adams says
With his new titles, Adams supervises nearly 2,000 employees, including a human resources staff of 48, a transportation department of 900, 38 school resource officers and several other departments.
He says he’s up to the task, citing low morale as a major challenge to be overcome.
“My three years with Educators First made me keenly aware of the challenges facing Cobb teachers today,” said Adams. “Morale is very low in Cobb County right now. That’s no one’s fault. Teachers across the state are doing more with less and less. We have to improve employee morale.”
Adams also wants to change the conversation about education in Georgia. He said the trend right now regarding leadership is to look at Gwinnett County and see what their school system is doing. Adams wants people to start asking what Cobb County is doing, at least regarding human resources.
Adams outlined his view of a strong human resources department.
“A good human resources department is very employee friendly,” Adams said. “They do whatever they can to let employees know every day they are the department’s critical customers. They are never too busy to take time out to make an employee’s day. They are sympathetic, they listen. They also have to do a good job of recruiting and hiring teachers.”
Adams said he loves dealing with people, especially educators, and feels he can make a more proactive difference in the lives of Cobb educators through his new job.
Adams has lived in Cobb County since 1988. He spent seven years as a police officer before becoming a teacher. After joining Cobb schools, Adams first taught special needs students with behavior disorders. In this role, he taught all subjects to his middle school students.
“I was a police officer and somebody called in a bomb threat. I got my first job talking to the principals walking the hallways,” said Adams, who prides himself on his sense of humor. “I was good at managing behavior for kids who had behavior problems. I was good at that, but not good at teaching math. You can’t be good at everything.”
The John Adams file
• Wife, Lenora Nyeste, assistant principal at Barber Middle School. Three daughters, ages 20-12.
• Residence: Acworth
• Career stops:Cobb County Police Department, officer; Floyd Middle School, teacher; Pebblebrook High School, assistant principal; Sanders Elementary School, assistant principal; CCSD central office, investigations manager, director of employee relations; Educators First, executive director
• Number of years in education: 18
• Education: B.A. History, Georgia State University; M.Ed. Behavioral Disorders, Georgia State University
• Spending time with family, playing with his dog, movies (especially science fiction), shooting handguns
• Salary: $132,000