By Sarrah Peters
On Friday, March 11, Hokes Bluff Elementary School Principal Charles Gardner entered his school’s auditorium for a career day for his students. At least that is what he thought was happening. With the help of students and staff, Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby planned a surprise for the principal to present him with the 2016-2017 Alabama National Distinguished Principal award.
“They did an excellent job keeping it a secret and planning it, because I didn’t have a clue,” said Gardner. “The feeling I had was indescribable to me. It was one of those moments I wish I could rewind and play it over and over again because I was so surprised and honored.”
The Alabama National Distinguished Principal Award is given by the Alabama Association of Elementary School Administrators, which, according to its website, is “a membership organization dedicated to serving as an advocate for children while striving to enhance effectiveness in the supervision and administration of elementary and middle schools.”
Gardner was aware that he was one of the three finalists for the award, but was still shocked that he won. Gardner was honored to just be a finalist with Autumn Jeter of Paine Elementary School in Trussville and Chris Mitten of Windham Elementary in Daleville.
“The other two principals, who I know, I know they are excellent principals,” said Gardner. “I was honored to be among them.”
To receive the award, Gardner was nominated by Southside Elementary Principal Carrie Yancey, who had also worked with Gardner at Southside High School. After the ten Alabama district nominations had been made, the selection committee narrowed the applicants to the three finalists, who are visited by the committee. Hokes Bluff Elementary’s visit came in February. The committee meets with students, teachers, support staff and other community leaders.The committee also looks at school data such as test scores.
Gardner wished to thank everyone who had a part in him receiving this honor, including Linda Griffin and Donna Johnson, retired elementary principals who mentored Gardner when he became an elementary principal.
“I have to have people here that do what they are supposed to do,” said Gardner. “I couldn’t say enough about the staff, the teachers. It takes everybody working together. And I just try to provide that leadership for them to do their jobs and to do it in the best way they know how. I have to share this with my school. If it wasn’t for them making this school so good, I would have never been considered for this.”