Kimberly Jackson, Lisa Williams and Keeli Bowen became first-time principals following the vote, while Shea Thomas will take charge of an administration she occupied five years ago.
The new appointments went into effect Thursday, just 2 ½ weeks before students return to classrooms for the fall semester.
All four principals say they’re excited to begin new chapters in their Cobb County School Districts careers.
Williams will make her first foray into middle school administration when she moves into the principal’s office at Lindley Middle School in Mableton.
She will leave Pope High School in northeast Cobb after just one year as its assistant principal.
“I’ll miss all the families and staff and students at my previous schools. I felt like I was at two schools last year,” Williams said of Pope and her previous school, Osborne High School in south Cobb, where she served as assistant principal for four years before moving to Pope in 2013.
She said she hopes to “bring a part of those schools” with her to Lindley, where she said she aims to “instill some of those prideful moments and just great ambitions.”
Williams began her career as a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee, before moving to Osborne in 2005.
At Osborne, she progressed from a teacher to an assistant administrator to the assistant principal post she left last year.
Michael Devault, who teaches business education at Osborne and was the 2013-14 teacher of the year, said Williams is a “true professional.”
“She was always willing to listen to new ideas and very supportive of everything we were doing in that department,” Devault said of the career tech area Williams directed.
Devault said he had worked with Williams at Osborne for four years before she departed for Pope.
“We really hated to see her go,” he said, adding he and other Osborne staff “realized it wouldn’t be long before she got her own school.”
“We’re very excited for her and the opportunity she has at Lindley.”
Williams said she hopes to “build a great sense of family and a great sense of connection the communities” in her new role at Lindley.
“What I do hope to build (is) a culture of excellence that any kid can achieve whatever their dreams are, and also any staff member can achieve whatever dreams that they may have,” she said.
She said the late-summer appointment could pose a challenge to her ability to get to know the staff at her new school before classes resume in August — but it could also create an opportunity.
“Because there’s a short amount of time, I’m hoping everybody wants to come out at the same time to meet all of us and also just to foster and to forge those relationships,” Williams said.
One of her top goals as principal will be to bring the community into the school, Williams said.
“I hope to just add to all the great things that are already going on at Lindley.”
Thomas said she feels “fortunate” to return to Kemp Elementary School in Powder Springs after five years at other Cobb elementary schools.
“I have a little bit of a comfort level because I have been at this school before, and I think they have a little bit of the same comfort level because they know me and know my style,” Thomas said.
After spending three years as the principal of Baker Elementary in Acworth, Thomas said she will miss her staff and students the most.
“I started my principalship at Baker, and they welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “We made a lot of great progress there and it’s hard to leave, but I’m excited for the change.”
Thomas began her teaching career at Ford Elementary in Acworth in 1995 and has remained at elementary schools ever since.
The biggest key to her success in administration so far, Thomas said, has been building relationships.
“You just realize how vital that is to the position and just the foundation of everything you do and its relationships with the kids, staff, parents, community, just everyone,” she said.
“I have been fortunate to work with so many talented and dedicated teachers and support staff during my career,” Thomas said of the people she has served alongside in her almost 20 years as a Cobb County educator.
Meg Hagan, a gifted education specialist and last year’s teacher of the year at Baker, said Thomas has been a “wonderful” principal during her three-year run at the school.
“She is positive. She is supportive; if I ever needed her, she gave me her full attention,” Hagan said. “She wants what’s best for students.”
Hagan said Kemp is “lucky to have her” as its new leader.
In her new role, Thomas said she anticipates forging stronger relationships with those she knew from her previous stint at the school, as well as building new ones with students and parents.
“I am looking forward to continuing the tradition of excellence at Kemp,” she said. “I’m looking forward to just going home and reconnecting with the staff and community and students.”
Bowen said she hopes to carry on the traditions Belinda Walters-Brazile, the principal at Cheatham Hill under which Bowen served as the school’s assistant principal.
“She and I are a lot alike,” Bowen said. “We’re very similar with our administrative style.”
Walters-Brazile vacated the principalship when the county named her the new Executive Director of Transformational Leadership in the district’s leadership and learning department.
Bowen said she doesn’t anticipate facing the same challenges as other new principals because she already knows her school well.
“I think I’m kind of at an advantage in the sense that I’ve been for three years, so I’ve already established relationships with teachers, students and the community,” she said.
Still, she said “learning the job” would take some time.
“I certainly don’t claim to know what it’s like to be a principal,” she said.
In her new role, she said she hopes to find ways to improve the instruction process, as well as to find more innovative ways to engage students.
Bowen spent a decade in special education across more than 15 Cobb schools before being named Cheatham Hill’s assistant principal in 2011.
She said she misses the day-to-day interaction with students from her days in the classroom.
“As an administrator, although I still get to see some of that, it’s on a totally different scale,” she said.
Bowen described her school as a “very collaborative environment.”
Megan Huss, Cheatham Hill’s 2013-14 teacher of the year, said Bowen has been “very easy to work with” during the three years she’s served as assistant principal.
“She is very collaborative,” Huss said. “I could go into her office and feel comfortable talking to her about something I needed help with and not feel like it was going to adversely affect me.”
Huss, a fifth-grade teacher, said one of Bowen’s best attributes is her ability to delegate.
“She doesn’t feel the need to come in and change things that are already running well,” Huss said. “So people feel more comfortable taking on a little more because their efforts are appreciated.”
Huss said she expects Bowen to be “amazing” in her new role.
“She has that ability to calmly look at what needs to be done without getting worked up,” Huss said.
“She’s not afraid to make the tough decisions, but she does it in a very kind way.”
Bowen said her background in special education likely influences her educational philosophy, which focuses on “meeting students exactly where they are and taking them to the next level.”
“All students should have the opportunity to learn.”
Jackson comes to Garrett Middle School in Austell from Mableton’s Pebblebrook High School, where she has served as an assistant principal since 2011.
“I’ll miss everything about the old school, as much as I look forward to everything at the new school,” Jackson said. “I love the student relationships; I love the faculty, the administrative team, the teachers.”
Jackson said she had enjoyed her time at the high school level, but was “elated” to take over at the middle school level.
One successful tactic Jackson hopes to carry with her from her time in Pebblebrook’s administration is something she called “vertical relationship building.”
“At the high school levels, I started reaching out more to the middle school level,” she said. “So I’m excited to be at the middle level where I can reach to the elementary more, and extend to the high school as well and building more vertical teaming with the parents as well. Not just my students, but teachers, parents and students.”
She said extending her reach beyond the middle school level creates an “easier transition” for both students and their parents as they progress through the system.
Parents are more prepared for what their children can expect when they reach middle or high school, Jackson said, when there’s such contact between the schools.
“It also provides a motivational factor for students to really know where they’re going and feel comfortable about that transition,” she added.
The only challenge Jackson said she anticipates facing is not being able to build relationships with her new staff as quickly as she would like.
“I really want to get to know each staff member. I really want to know their strengths and be able to meet their needs,” she said.
Jackson began her career in the district eight years ago, when she became an assistant administrator at Campbell Middle School.
Before that, she was a special education teacher, first in Florida and then Decatur, where she became a department chair in 2000.
George Washington, a teacher at Pebblebrook, said Jackson emphasized professionalism during the three years she served as the high school’s assistant principal.
“She always preached one thing to me: Always be professional, do your job and everything else will work itself out,” Washington said.
The ninth-grade algebra teacher said he would miss Jackson when she made the move to Garrett.
“I’m sad, but she’s going to do awesome. The parents are going to love her to death. The students are going to appreciate her,” he said.
Washington also had some advice for Garrett’s teachers.
“Teachers, you better get ready to work hard.”