By Cole Frederick
Tony Reddick’s journey to becoming the new superintendent of Gadsden City Schools commenced over 1,100 miles away in Massachusetts.
Reddick attended high school at the prestigious Saint Sebastian’s School, an all-boys Catholic school located in Newton. Saint Sebastian’s is the top parochial school in Massachusetts and one of the best in the country, and Reddick excelled in multiple sports while earning awards in language and reading in his graduating class of 35 students.
While studying at Saint Sebastian’s, Reddick said there were three values instilled in the students that he still prioritizes.
“Saint Sebastian’s taught us to love God, work hard and take care of each other,” Reddick said. “That was our school motto.”
Reddick was an all-scholastic receiver and defensive back on the football team and also excelled in basketball. After graduating, he enrolled at Boston University on a scholarship as a defensive back. He anticipated playing early at BU but the coaching staff had a different plan in mind.
“I learned a new word,” Reddick said. “Redshirt. Boston University’s colors were red and white, so I assumed red meant defense. When they broke the news to me that I wouldn’t be dressing out, I was a little disappointed. I spent that entire freshman season at practice and holding the ball for the placekicker.”
Reddick wasn’t redshirted for a lack of talent, as a childhood accident left him blinded in his right eye. During the preseason physical, Reddick couldn’t see anything on the eye chart when his left eye was covered. He needed protective eyewear to play, so the coaching staff decided to redshirt him.
Reddick was disappointed about being redshirted and eventually withdrew and worked in the maintenance field for a brief period of time. He admitted that he was “kind of lost” for some time before one of his cousins urged him to attend Talladega College with him in Alabama.
While it took some time for Reddick to figure out what he wanted to do, his life change almost instantly when he arrived in Talladega.
“I got there on Aug. 26, and on the next day, I was walking across the campus to retrieve a key for my room assignment,” Reddick said. “I missed all of freshman orientation. That’s when I saw Mrs. Belinda, my wife. I thought, ‘Well, there she is. There’s my wife right there.’ Now, it took two and a half years before she finally realized she was going to be my wife.’”
Reddick and Belinda have been married for 34 years, and they moved to Gadsden to live with her family after graduating from Talladega in 1983. He played basketball at Talladega and eventually decided to major in math. However, it was several years before Reddick finally decided to pursue a career in education.
For a brief period of time, Reddick moved back to Boston and worked. After saving some money, he proposed to Belinda, though it wasn’t exactly the most traditional proposal.
“I called (Belinda) that Christmas, and I mailed her an engagement ring and said, ‘You know what this is for don’t you?’ It was the only choice I had,” he said. “Thank goodness she was okay with that.”
The Reddick’s were married in February of 1984 and lived in Boston for three years. When their daughter Lindsay was born, they decided to move back to Gadsden because she was the only grandchild Belinda’s parents had at that time.
When Reddick and his family relocated to Gadsden, he was invited to be a part of the education environment by Richard Williams, who was principal at Litchfield High School at the time. The two discussed the possibility of Reddick becoming a teacher. Reddick assumed he would be teaching math. However, he was actually hired as the French teacher while also teaching art.
Reddick went back to school to become certified in math and took the opportunity to earn his leadership certificate. In 1990, he was hired as assistant principal at Gadsden High School, where he stayed for six years.
In 1996, Reddick was hired as principal at Litchfield High. During his seven-year tenure at the school, Reddick experienced some of the peaks of his career during his time as an administrator. Reddick also faced the toughest time of his career, as the school faced state intervention.
“Students were performing above their ability on standardized tests but it didn’t meet the state standard,” Reddick said. “That third year we were anticipating an increase in our scores, but we had 55 new students come in due to a relaxed transfer policy. Instead of us going up, we went down less than two points. That put us in an intervention.”
Principals usually are removed when the state intervenes, but Reddick was allowed to stay.
“The state department came in and said to me, ‘We usually remove the principal in cases like this,’” Reddick said. “I said, ‘Fine. You’re not going to find anybody better. You’re not going to find anyone who knows this community, who knows these kids, and you’re certainly not going to find somebody who cares for them as much as I do.’
“They let me stay, but I had to endure being the principal but not really being in charge. I remember one day I went into my office and broke down and cried like a baby. We still were not getting the recognition that we should have gotten. I thought, ‘I’m failing these kids.’
“But I realized I really wasn’t (failing them). I thought it was a little selfish of me. I felt like I failed them. Like I didn’t protect them. We were called the worst school in the state of Alabama. I read that in an article somewhere. Far from it. We had people coming in and saying, ‘Well, this isn’t the school I was expecting to see.’ It was clean, it was orderly, and they could see the relationships between the teachers and kids.”
After navigating Litchfield out of state intervention, Reddick decided to leave in 2003 and run the Career Tech program at J.K. Weaver. He started a sound engineering program and a culinary arts program during his three-year tenure. Reddick also was the principal of the alternative school since it was next door to J.K. Weaver.
Following his stint at J.K. Weaver, Reddick moved to Gadsden State in a partnership with the college’s career tech program. He stayed three years before moving to the mentoring program while at the same time serving as the supervisor of the parent-teacher resource program and the EL coordinator.
In 2016, Reddick was hired by the Gadsden City Board of Education as its Director of Student Services. When he was hired for that position, Reddick said his goal was to learn everything he possibly could about the operation of the school system.
When the opportunity arose, Reddick decided that he felt comfortable about applying to become superintendent.
“With how this unfolded, I thought, ‘why not me?’ When the report came back that I was not in the top five according to the process, I was okay with that. Whoever was the new superintendent, I would pledge to give them my best effort. They narrowed it to two people, and one of those candidates took another job. Another candidate had never been to Gadsden and knew nothing about Gadsden. I thought to myself, ‘You know this town. Why shouldn’t you at least offer yourself as an option?’
“I just wanted an interview. If you interview me, whoever you choose as superintendent, you’ll have a better idea as to what your expectations ought to be for that person. Sure enough, when I got the interview, I felt really good about it.”
In a 4-3 vote, the school board approved Reddick for the position. Despite the approval, Reddick said he wanted everyone to back him as the superintendent.
“The only thing that put a damper on it was that it was a 4-3 vote,” he said. “I can remember when they voted, I was just staring at the three people who voted no and thinking, ‘What is wrong with y’all? What’s the problem here?’ I was disappointed. I’m happy that I got the vote. But after all we went through, I thought, ‘How can y’all not see that I’m a viable candidate for this job?’”
After Reddick was approved, the board did a support vote where all seven board members voted in favor of Reddick becoming superintendent. Since then, Reddick said he has received an overwhelming amount of support.
“It was a surreal moment for me,” he said. “I can honestly say though I’ve thought about the superintendent position over the course of my career, it wasn’t a great aspiration. I’ve always had the mindset that whatever I can do to help improve and enhance our school system, I’m willing to do.
“I’ve had such an outpouring of support; I can’t let a handful of people diminish that feeling that I have. I’ve always tried to lead by example. I don’t celebrate ordinary; I celebrate extraordinary. You have to do something really, really big to do something worth celebrating. If you celebrate every small thing, then you don’t aspire to do anything big.”
This article was Part I of a 2 part series featuring Tony Roddick, part 1 may be found on page 12A of the Oct. 26, 2018 edition of The Messenger.
Before Tony Reddick started his first day as the new Gadsden City Schools superintendent earlier this year, he already had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish both for the short-term and long-term.
Reddick’s vision for the future of the school system was cultivated through several decades in education, including Gadsden City schools. When he was approved by the board of education in this past summer, he hit the ground running with his goals for the school system.
“My short-term goal is to improve teaching and learning,” Reddick said. “I know that in schools throughout the country, there’s a lot of focus on improving athletic programs and winning state championships. In education, we manufacture students. That’s our product. When I talk about improving teaching and learning, it’s making sure that our students are learning everything they’re supposed to learn. It’s more than just reading, writing and arithmetic; it’s socially and emotionally.”
Reddick noted that so many students in the school system are talented and that it’s up to the educators to uncover that talent in order for it to blossom. He also plans to evaluate staff members to ensure that they are instructing and teaching the necessary information to students.
“You have to make sure you provide the proper resources to the proper people,” he said. “I want everybody working in their gift. We have lots of students that have talent, but it hasn’t been cultivated. Quite often, all we see is the bad side. The side that says, ‘Where I woke up this morning, this is how I have to conduct myself to survive.’ They’re still wearing that armor. We have to find people who know how to break that armor down so we can cultivate that talent.”
Academics are the top concern for Reddick, pointing out that athletics are too often seen as a way out for students.
Reddick has a five-year contract as superintendent. Realistically, he would would like to retire by that point and take care of his grandson. However, if the board believes the schools are progressing under his guidance, Reddick said he would be thrilled with a short-term renewal. He said his goal is to help the school system improve over the next five years, and hopefully the board will want to renew his contract to continue making progress.
“All I want is improvement,” he said. “Not all of our students are going to be National Merit finalists. But as long as we continue to move that bar up every year, and I think we are going to be able to accomplish that by getting a consensus of understanding and a commitment from all of our staff. Every day is better than the day before.
“In my tenure as a principal, I’ve been able to convey to my staff how they need to treat every child the same way they would want their child to be treated. If we can accomplish that much, then we can make some progress.”
Additionally, Reddick wants Gadsden City High School to eventually be recognized on a national level for its academic excellence.
“Anything I do, I want it to be award-winning,” he said. “I want our school to be a recognized as a top-tier school. We already feel like we are, but I want to be recognized nationally. I want to be mentioned in magazines, newspapers and news articles for our accomplishments. Mostly academic accomplishments or whatever we’ve done socially to improve education for the less fortunate.”
One program Reddick is planning to institute is called “30 Rocks.” Reddick is known as being an excellent tutor for the ACT, and he plans to personally tutor any student who is on the cusp of making a 30 on the exam. He wants Gadsden City High School to be mentioned by the ACT on annual or national reports about excellence on the exam as a school system.
Reddick began his career in education at Litchfield High School and became an administrator in 1990 at Gadsden High School. He has been in administration for nearly 30 years with the Gadsden City school system, including the last few years at the board of education.
During that time, Reddick learned as much information as possible about the school system and how it operates in the event that he was approved as superintendent at some point.
Reddick said he knows exactly what he needs to do to help Gadsden City schools produce the best possible version of each student.
“I want to identify specific needs for our students” he said. “My focus is on our students. My focus is always on law, policy and rule. Policy doesn’t supersede law and rule doesn’t supersede policy. Consensus building with all the staff. The school system should be reflective of my leadership, and to a larger degree, my personality.”
Reddick believes he earned the respect of his peers during his career, and he expects teachers and administrators to buy into his philosophy.
“I don’t anticipate any problems with that, because I think I’m a pretty well-liked and respected individual as an educator. I want to help develop a servant attitude with our teachers and our students to build our community.”