Decorated educator accepts job in Montana
by By W. Winston Skinner firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Nelson was dying.
She and her daughter, Coweta educator Dr. Laurie Barron, got to have a heart-to-heart talk — the kind many parents and child would like to have but never do. Nelson encouraged her daughter to follow her dream.
“She would have retired in July,” Barron reflected, remembering how her mother wanted to travel and enjoy life in retirement.
Nelson asked Barron about her hopes for the future. Then the mother’s words were direct: “You need to follow your dreams. You don’t need to spend your whole life waiting for what you want to do. You want to spend your life doing what you want to do.”
The last year has been a milestone marker for Barron. She was named National Middle School Principal of the Year and was honored at “An Evening with the Stars” at the University of West Georgia.
“This year has been the year of a million lifetimes — the opportunities and blessings I’ve had,” Barron said.
Barron has spent 17 years as an educator in Coweta County. After college she got her first teaching job at Newnan High — teaching English and coaching cheerleading. She spent six years at NHS and was an assistant principal at Arnall Middle before becoming principal at Smokey Road Middle School nine years ago.
With her mother’s words in her ears, however, Barron has looked north to Montana.
Barron will be going to the Flathead Valley in July where she will become superintendent of the Evergreen School District. Montana, Big Sky Country, is a place with wide open vistas and not lots of people. Coweta County has 446 square miles and 127,000 residents, while Flathead County has 5,526 square miles and a population of 91,000.
Barron described Evergreen as “a very small district right outside Kalispell,” the county seat. There are two schools in the district — one for kindergarten through fourth grade and another for fifth through eighth. Evergreen is one of several K-8 districts in the area whose students feed into Glacier High School.
Evergreen is “a very strong, tight-knit community” of hard-working people, Barron said. “There’s a lot of pride.”
Barron and her husband, Daniel, have both loved Montana since before they met. He spent the summer of 1993 working at Glacier National Park, which is about 30 minutes from Evergreen. When she was a senior at the University of Georgia in 1996, she and a friend went to see “Legends of the Fall” and were entranced by what they saw. At the end of the film, there was a credit stating the movie was filmed in Montana.
“My best friend and I, we had free roundtrip plane tickets,” she said, because they had been bumped from a flight. After seeing the film, they made plans to use their passes to fly west in June 1996. They visited the Grant Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
The Barrons had been married awhile when they discovered each other’s love for Montana. Soon they began regular trips in the summer and occasional winter ski trips there, too. “It’s really beautiful,” Barron said. “We’ve been out in the winter. It’s not miserable.”
The Barrons often talked about going to Montana when they retired. A confluence of events, including Laurie Barron’s conversation with her mother, pushed them to move up the timeline. “We are fulfilling a dream,” she said.
Daniel Barron reads online versions of newspapers in the Kalispell area. In January or February, he told his wife about Evergreen’s superintendent retiring. “We laughed, and we did nothing about it,” she remembered.
Days after Linda Nelson’s death, Daniel Barron came to his wife with a report from Montana. The Evergreen job was still open. “They had reposted the superintendent’s position,” she recalled.
Laurie Barron got busy on the application. She was hired for the job, and will be taking some classes this summer on Montana classroom law and related topics.
“It was a very, very lengthy process. I was impressed with their approach to finding the right person,” Barron said.
Daniel Barron also has a teaching certificate, and they are looking forward to a new chapter in their lives. “I’m more than excited,” she said.
The Barrons have family locally and will be staying in touch and visiting Georgia often. “This county has been so good to me,” she said.
“I know I wouldn’t have had this opportunity had it not been for this school system,” Barron said. The system pushed her to grow and “always expected me to be better,” she said.
“We’re in the process of wrapping up our lives in Coweta County,” Barron said. “I’m still working full-time at Smokey Road through the end of June.”
She said she will miss SRMS — the students, faculty and staff. “This is family,” she said. “We’ve seen each other through good and bad.”
Becoming a superintendent will be “a new role” with a learning curve, she acknowledged.
“My passion in education is building relationships to help people grow and improve. I’m going to be able to continue doing that,” she said.
“What I’ll miss is being in a school with students and teachers” on a daily basis, she said.
Barron remembered telling the SRMS staff about her decision to go to Montana. When they heard her destination, there were many nodding heads. “They understand this is a dream we’ve had forever.”