Wilson named National Principal of the Year
By Kathryn Purcell
He wasn’t expecting the official opening of the new gym to end in tears.
As the ceremony dedicating Morgan County High School’s newest facility was concluding, and representatives of various education, business and legislative delegations filed in, Morgan County High School Principal Mark Wilson knew immediately that something was up.
He was right.
Intercepting the microphone, Superintendent Stan DeJarnett wasted no time announcing that Wilson was named the 2009 National Principal of the Year, effectively ending the all-encompassing suspense that enveloped the gym.
“I would like to extend congratulations from the members of the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals,” GASSP Executive Director Melton Callahan said, congratulating Wilson at the assembly.
Larry Bradley, president of the NASSP Board of Directors, echoed his sentiment, praising Wilson’s work and handing him the official award.
“One reason you were chosen was because of the way you brought all of these factions together at Morgan County High School,” Bradley said.
Mike Verroi, MetLife Resources assistant regional managing director, also offered his praise. He informed Wilson that he was to be the recipient of $5,000 to be put toward aspects of school life, like professional development or school improvement projects.
“We value the work you do,” Verroi said.
A representative of state Superintendent Kathy Cox presented Wilson with a proclamation honoring the occasion, after students presented him with a banner declaring him the National Principal of the Year. State Representative Doug Holt was also in attendance, and gave Wilson a letter from Governor Sonny Perdue celebrating his “dedicated efforts.”
Before turning the microphone over to Wilson, DeJarnett again congratulated him.
“This recognition is not just to Morgan County High School, but to the Morgan County school system and community,” DeJarnett said. “I want to tell you personally how proud we are of you.”
As Wilson started to speak to the gathered crowd, he began to get a bit choked up.
“My daughters know I never cry, so I’ve got to hold on a minute,” Wilson said.
He spoke of the people he admired most – his father and mother – and began to share their stories. His parents came from “tough times,” Wilson said, as his father didn’t get to finish school when he was young.
“I think I learned a lot from my dad,” Wilson said. “When he was in his 50s, he got his high school diploma… When Dad walked with all the other people across that stage…how could I not be a teacher?”
Wilson spoke of the importance of education, and recognized that the award didn’t solely belong to him, but to the entire Morgan County High School family.
“This is important, what we’re doing…to have the best educated populous we can possibly have,” Wilson said. “I want to tell all of you thank you so much, because this is an award for all of us.
Wilson stated that, in the national interview, he didn’t share about himself at all, but gave his presentation on the school – the teachers and students, the many activities and instruction that goes on within it.
He said that with the award came greater responsibility, for him and for the school.
“What do you get?” Wilson asked. “More responsibility, more accountability. I was always accountable to my family, to the school. I’m accountable to the whole country now. So are you.”
Finally, Wilson recognized his family – his wife, Lisa, and daughters, Anna and Ellen. Tears, again, in his eyes and arms around their shoulders, he shared the story of their support, even before he landed the position at Morgan County High School.
“I’m so glad those unanswered prayers never happened,” Wilson said.
Board of Education Chairman Nelson Hale later congratulated Wilson on the honor.
“We as a school board couldn’t be more proud,” Hale said.
Wilson was named the state’s MetLife/Georgia Association of Secondary Schools’ (GASSP) Principal of the Year earlier this year and, towards the end of the summer, he found out that he’d been chosen as one of three finalists in the nationwide contest. So, he went to Washington D.C. in mid-August to give a presentation on the school to a six-member panel representing the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“Mark Wilson’s willingness to think outside the box has proven to be an invaluable gift to everyone in his school building,” NASSP Executive Director Gerald Tirozzi said, in e-mail correspondence. “Not only are the students achieving academically, they and Mark’s staff have a sense of connection and belonging at Morgan County High that is undeniable. We congratulate him on receiving this honor.”
He was told not to expect news of the winner until September, though, unbeknownst to him, it didn’t take the panel quite that long to make their decision.
“I got the call last week,” DeJarnett said. “How we kept it a secret, I don’t know.”
Those closest to Wilson each day, however, found keeping the secret to be the most difficult, given the fact they were in constant contact with him day in and day out.
“I’ve known for 11 days, and keeping it a secret is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Assistant Principal Pat Leming said.
“It was the hardest secret to keep I’ve ever been told in my life,” Wilson’s assistant, Susan Segrest, said. “I didn’t even tell my husband until I knew it was too late for him to tell anyone else.”
It seems that, according to all involved, Wilson is well deserving of the “National Principal of the Year” designation. That’s no secret.
“That’s my boy!” former Superintendent Patricia Stokes, who was responsible for Wilson’s hiring, said.
And, when asked why she thought he won over all the other principals in the nation, Wilson’s youngest daughter, Ellen, was quick to respond.
“Well, because he’s awesome.”