Leaving is often bittersweet. Torn between the excitement of a challenging new position and the sadness at leaving those who have become family, the final weeks at a job can be very emotional.
At least, that’s what Dr. Michael Forehand is experiencing.
The principal of Middle Ridge Elementary School in Covington, Forehand announced his resignation — effective at the end of the year — Nov. 20, and is now able to confirm where he’s headed next.
“I am going to be principal at Sarah Smith Elementary in Buckhead,” he said. “It is the largest elementary school in Atlanta. I plan to still live in Covington and drive in — I know traffic will be a nightmare at times, but I love living in Covington.”
But, he added, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“The principal at the school is retiring, and they needed someone to start in January and not the end of the school year,” Forehand said.
Even so, he said, he wouldn’t leave mid-year if he didn’t think Assistant Principal Rhonda Battle wasn’t ready to take over as principal of the Covington elementary school.
Proud of legacy he will leave behind
Forehand was named principal of Middle Ridge Elementary School in 2012. Under his leadership, the school not only grew in size — from an enrollment in the mid-500s to nearly 800 — it has been recognized by the state and by the federal government for its academic achievements.
In 2013, it was awarded the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence, recognizing public and private elementary and secondary schools overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among students. As of 2015, Middle Ridge is one of only approximately 7,500 schools national to have earned the award honoring the hard work of the students, educators, families and communities in creating a safe and welcome school.
Middle Ridge is also only one of eight schools in Georgia to have received the ribbon in 2013.
The elementary school was among the first to adopt the Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) program.
“We initiated this program, PBIS, to promote positive behavior,” he said, adding the program isn’t just aimed at student disciplinary issues, but in seeking ways to involve parents and the community in the mission of the school — to prepare students success [at school] and for productive lives beyond the classroom.
“We started with very few parents coming in to the school to help,” Forehand said. “Now we have a lot of parental support. We’ve offered things for the parents, [like] a healthy cooking class, where they learn how to cook using inexpensive ingredients.
“Another thing we’re working on it teaching [parents] how to write resumes and interview skills,” he said. That’s so they can find jobs locally, allowing their children to stay in the same schools and families time to become part of a community.
There are two additional contributions Forehand leaves behind with pride: an increased emphasis on the arts in the schools and building trust with teachers as the school started working with the Teacher Keys Effectiveness [Evaluation] System.
Developed by the state, the effectiveness system consists of a combination of components that help teachers improve skills and continue their professional growth, both in and outside the classroom. As part of the program, teachers are observed in the classroom and provided with constructive feedback and data that includes measures of student growth and academic achievement.
The program requires administrators to be in classrooms, observing the teachers at work, than in the past, Forehand said.
The Keys system “was new for the teachers and they were a little afraid,” he said. “I think I did a great job building trust with them, letting them know I was there to help, that [the administration was there to] really help.
“The school was already making improvements when I got here, so I just kept it going,” Forehand said. “There were people before me who started it — and when we won the [National Blue Ribbon of Excellence Award] I invited them back.”
Those invited, he said, included former Middle Ridge principals Alan Satterfield, now the Special Education Director for Newton County School System (NCSS) and Karen Crowder, now retired.
The arts as a way to success
From a young age, he was drawn to the arts, and originally planned to major in music.
“My passion is the arts. Then, my professors encouraged me to go into elementary education. I started teaching in Jackson, where I grew up. I taught in the same classroom where I [went to] third grade.”
It’s that love of the arts that has him setting a goal: to work in Washington, D.C., close to the White House. He would like, he said, to be Secretary of Education someday.
“I want to make a mark,” he said. “I want to be a voice for teachers, to bring their concerns and thoughts to the governing bodies and legislatures so we can transform education.”
One of his biggest concerns is that we’re pushing the arts outs [of the schools],” he said. “There are a lot of children who don’t enjoy coming to school because they don’t do well in academics.”
But involvement in a play, such as the staging earlier this year of Suessical, the Musical, or other art programs, students who struggled to pass state tests, were suddenly engaged. “They wanted to come and they wanted to do well so they could continue in those activities,” he said. “They actually passed the tests that year.”
Other art oriented things he has introduced include inviting the Atlanta History Museum into the school. “They bring artifacts from the Civil War and World War II, and they do storytelling [about those wars],” he said. “Children have a chance to experience those artifacts. They can hold them in their hands.”
The relationship with the Atlanta History Music he’s built over the years reflects his ability to build relationships between the schools, businesses and cultural organizations, such as The Alliance Theater.
“I have already developed relationships with those organizations to work with the students at Middle Ridge,” Forehand said. “I’m working with [the newly-named principal] Rhonda Battle to continue to bring those experiences here, as well, so she and I will stay in touch.”
Relating to the children
“I lost my parents very young and there were many challenges in my life, so I was able to relate and to be a positive influence in their lives,” Forehand said. “The children and their families have become my family.”
Raised in Jackson by his aunt and uncle, Patricia and Dennis Tingle, he and his older sister, Lisa Lewis, grew up with cousins who were like brothers and sisters. Still, the loss of his parents was a void.
“The children here are so dear to my heart,” he said. “I grew up in many ways like they are growing up.
And he admits he is going to miss being at Middle Ridge.
“I’m going to miss the children,” he said. “I’m going to miss their smiles and their hugs.”
He will also miss the teachers at the school and colleagues throughout the district. “I know every principal is going to say that, but the teachers here work harder than any other teachers I’ve known,” he said. “I’m going to miss their friendship. I’ve learned a lot from them.
“I’m going to miss the fellowship of the principals,” he said. “We have a great group of principals here. We share our experiences and learn from one another. Atlanta is a very large [school] system. There’s over 100 schools there, so I’m not sure what that will entail.
“I love Middle Ridge, I love what I’m doing here, I’m not unhappy,” he said. “I’m just excited about a new experience.”
Still, he said, “The past few days have been very emotional. You don’t realize what impact you’ve had on lives until you leave somewhere.”