Wendy Hughes, new principal at Livingston Elementary, entered her first job as a principal with confidence because even though she has never held a school's head position, she has worked in education for more than 20 years.
She also credits her predecessor, Jackie Carson, with building a tradition of strong staff support at Livingston and making her first weeks much less hectic.
"This school runs like a top," Hughes said. "Livingston has so many great teacher leaders."
Hughes has traveled a rather winding road to school administration. She graduated from East Tennessee State University with a degree in speech, theater and mass communication.
After college, she began work writing and producing television commercials for WJHL-TV in Johnson City, Tenn.
When she realized she was unhappy in that career, she decided to pursue a master of arts in teaching.
"I have to say that one of the draws of the classroom was that I was kind of on the stage everyday - performing to my students," Hughes said.
She started her teaching career with kindergartners at a private school in Tennessee and since has taught every grade - except second - up to eighth.
In 1987, she and her family moved to Georgia. She began teaching in DeKalb County, where she had her first encounter with public education and struggling students.
"That's when I learned to teach," Hughes said.
Hughes then taught in Rockdale County for six years on the middle school level. When a position opened as social studies curriculum coordinator for Rockdale County, her principal encouraged her to apply.
Even though she held no leadership degree at the time, county administrators hired her for the position.
"What I learned from that position is that it's not what you know," Hughes said. "It's the support you give."
After obtaining her leadership and specialist degrees from UGA, Henry County administrators offered her a job as county director of professional development.
Working for Henry County, she traveled all around the country and even to Scotland bringing word of the best practices and policies back to those schools.
"Most educators don't get those opportunities," Hughes said.
Hughes then went to work in Atlanta as the director of teacher quality for the Georgia Department of Education. Soon, she realized something was missing from her life.
"I was so far away from students," Hughes said, "and if I'm not around children, I'm in withdrawal."
That's why Hughes said she feels blessed to be named principal of Livingston. She said the Newton County School System employs an extremely helpful and knowledgeable network of educators and administrators.
Hughes knows she will face unexpected challenges as principal, but for now she relishes being among children again, rather than with politicians and policy makers.
"From minute to minute, you don't know what you'll be asked or what issues will pop up," Hughes said.
One of her goals is to sort of recruit her students.
"My goal is for everybody I touch to become a teacher because it's a fabulous job," Hughes said.
She wants her students to enjoy their experiences at Livingston so much it influences them to pursue careers in education.
Another of Hughes' goals is for the school to really live up to its motto of "a family friendly school." She said some of her students may not have adequate support at home, and she wants the school to fill in the gaps.
"I believe that every answer to every issue in this school lies within the walls of this school," Hughes said. "I don't know exactly how we are going to do it, but we'll find a way to do it here."
Hughes said she has enjoyed driving only six miles to work - rather than 40 miles into Atlanta - and to be met with hugs and high fives when she arrives.
"I drive to work every morning and I greet every child that gets off the bus," Hughes said, "and I see the most beautiful children and I try to get a smile from every one of them.
"That starts my day like nothing else starts my day."