Published Friday, November 16, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Lee Middle School Principal Dr. Bob Heaberlin is the winner of the 2012 Distinguished Educator Award given by the Association for Middle Level Education.
Heaberlin accepted the award Nov. 9 at the AMLE's annual conference in Portland, Ore.
Heaberlin, who has been principal at Lee since it opened in 2006, said the award is the highlight of his career.
And it's been quite a career. Heaberlin has been named the National Middle Level Distinguished Principal of the Year, and received the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders Outstanding Educator Award and the Georgia Association of Middle School Principals' Dr. John Lounsbury Award, to name a few. He also won five state track championships and was South Carolina State Coach of the Year early in his career. And Lee was named a Lighthouse School to Watch in Georgia.
"The reason it was the highlight of my career was because of the people who nominated me for it. And because it recognizes me not only as an administrator, it also recognizes me as an educator," Heaberlin said. The award is based on an educator's entire career.
Heaberlin is in his 41st year as an educator. He has taught social studies in elementary, middle and high school, taught senior English, coached track and several other sports, has been a guidance counselor, an assistant principal, and has served as principal in elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as an alternative school. He's also a part-time faculty member at the University of West Georgia in the Department of Educational Leadership.
Heaberlin was nominated by Linda Hopping, chairman of the Lighthouse Schools to Watch in Georgia and Dr. John Lounsbury, who is "the father of the middle school movement in the U.S.," Heaberlin said.
"It's a very, very high and distinguished honor to be recognized by your peers," Heaberlin said Thursday.
"I don't even know where to begin," said gifted English and language arts teacher Lisa Redmon when she was asked to talked about working for Heaberlin.
"One of the things I admire most about him as a principal is that he makes stuff happen," she said. "We're not a Title I school and we don't get a lot of funding. With him, he has all these work arounds, he has all these creative ways of getting whatever it is we need to get in order to help the kids," she said.
"He knows his kids and I like that about him. He doesn't miss an athletic event. And it's not just like he's standing there" as a typical spectator. "He's got his jacket off and is running up and down the sidelines," Redmon said. And he loves to give the pre-game speech in the locker room.
When it comes to his teachers, "I like how he empowers his people," she said. "He passes a lot of the responsibility on to those who he thinks will also make it happen. So there are a lot of people here doing a lot of things because he has empowered them to," she said.
Redmon worked with Heaberlin at East Coweta Middle School. When she found out he would be the principal at the new middle school, she wanted to join him there. "As did a lot of teachers," Redmon said.
Another thing Redmon loves about Heaberlin is "he likes to have fun. And the kids know he likes to have fun," she said.
"He encourages his students to do their very best," said eighth grader Addison Burnett. "I don't think we'd be the Lighthouse School of Champions if he wasn't here," she said.
"I'm positive we wouldn't," said seventh grader Wyatt Palmer. "He always pushes us hard. He pushes hard for you to always do your best and never give up," Palmer said. But he's not super strict. "He's a fun guy, but he's still disciplined," he said.
"And he never counts anybody out," Palmer said. "He includes everyone," he said. "Ever since I've known him he's never let me down."
"He's extremely competitive, and he's good at recognizing individual students," said eighth grader Bo Heatherman.
And he gives students many opportunities to be recognized, said eighth grader KiAra Ootley.
Honors Day is not something that only happens at the end of the year at Lee Middle School. Instead, it's held every nine weeks.
"We do reward our students for their academics, athletics, character and attendance," Heaberlin said. The awards programs are always held during the school so "so that it is seen in front of all the students," Heaberlin said.
There's also the Wolf of the Day award, which is given every day to one student on each of the nine "teams." The Wolf of the Day award is given for a positive manner, Heaberlin said.
Toni Smith, in-school coordinator, has worked at three different schools in her career. "And honestly, this is probably the most fun in education that I've had," she said.
"Because he just makes it fun," she said. "He wants all the kids to do well," she said. "He really goes out of his way to help anyone. If you are in need, he will try to figure out a way to help the students," Smith said.
She recalled once when two girls wanted to go out for the track team and "they just really couldn't nor afford it," Smith said. Heaberlin "called me in his office, he handed me his credit card and he said 'get them what they need,'" she said. "That is the kind of person that he is, and he will do it for anyone," she said. "He is probably the most giving and most caring individual that I've worked with in a long time."
"We are very proud that he has won this award. He is very deserving of it," said Registrar Janet Robertson. "He's a very supportive administrator," she said. "He motivates his students and his staff to be the best they can be."
"He is quick to say that, although he received the award, he recognizes that the school is part of why he won the award," said Bookkeeper Connie Millard. "It is an honor to work with him."
The students take pride in their school and you can see it, said Misty Wilson, who teaches seventh grade literature and social students. "You can see it in the kids when they come in this door and they wear that Lee Middle School shirt," she said. "They see that in him. It starts from the top."
Counselor Karen Poore has worked with Heaberlin off and on since the late 1980s at East Coweta Middle School.
Before opening Lee, Heaberlin was the principal at Temple High School in Carroll County.
"When I learned he was coming back here to Lee Middle School, I applied here, to work under him," Poore said. "I like his leadership style. If he knows you know what you're doing and you will do your job, he leaves you alone to do your job," she said. "He's very approachable... he lets you work out your ideas," he said. He's also a workhorse, and expects his staff to be also.
"He has that unusual combination of being a workhorse but also being compassionate when it comes to family needs, Poore said.
Heaberlin loves middle school. It's a time of major transitions in students' lives. "They come to us as 11-year-olds, they leave as 14-year-olds," he said. "This is where they begin their teenage years."
And character education is very important. "We strive for excellence in academics and we try to build great charecter with these students," he said.
"At Lee, we call ourselves the school of champions," he said. "And champions does not refer to just athletics. We try to become champions in the community with outreach programs, champions through our self discipline here, through the Way of the Wolf," which is their character education program.
And "we have a great group of teachers who try to make sure they meet all of the needs of the students here. Not just the academic needs," Heaberlin said.
Heaberlin wanted to make sure and thank two special people — his wife, Jane, and his assistant principal Dr. Cindy Bennet.
Mrs. Heaberlin, a retired teacher, "has been very supportive of my endeavors," he said.
And Dr. Bennet's "work with the curriculum and character education program at Lee was very instrumental in our school receiving the National School to Watch designation," he said. "As a professional colleague she has been very instrumental in my success as principal at Lee."