John Sharpe to Head SECCA
“I am excited about this new challenge and the opportunity to continue to be in this community,” – John Sharpe Vidalia High School Principal John Sharpe is bidding farewell to his role of the past nine years and undertaking a direction as head of the Southeastern Early College and Career Academy.
“I am excited about this new challenge and the opportunity to continue to be in this community,” Sharpe remarked. “I am very proud of the work that has gone on at SECCA, and how Mrs. (Shelly) Smith and Mr. (David) Avery have worked so well with the community.”
He added, “This gives me a chance to refocus. A high school principal’s job is very demanding. You’re working 60 to 80 hours a week. I have grandchildren now, and I am excited to have a little more time on the weekend to spend with them. Overall, it is a great opportunity.”
Sharpe shared that although he is leaving Vidalia High School continued from page
behind, he is proud to leave it in good stead. “This school is in great shape,” he emphasized. “We have gotten through COVID, and there is a tremendous staff here. Vidalia will continue to set the bar for academic, fine arts, and athletic achievement for our area. The folks in place here will continue to have high standards for the school, our students, and our faculty.”
The school has been under Sharpe’s leadership for 9 years, which is 4 years longer than the average shelf life of a principal, according to Sharpe. “I remember when I was told that principals only lasted at schools 3 to 5 years when I was in college,” he noted. “It has been a true blessing to be able to spend much more time than that at this school. When I first got into education, my dream job would have been to be principal at Vidalia High School. I took several turns along the way, but I was able to get back. There have been so many things we have been able to accomplish and that I am very proud of.”
During his time at Vidalia High School, Sharpe has aided in numerous achievements. He reminisced on these accomplishments. “One of the things I am most proud of is our graduation rate,” he said. “When I first became principal, it was in the low 70% range. Every year, when we presented this to our faculty, I knew the average for the area, but it bothered me that 40 to 50 students who started the 9th grade every year would not get a high school education. We knew based on statistics and data what would most likely happen to those students, and we wanted to give them a better opportunity to at least open that door to be able to have a job, provide for a family, and be productive members of society.” Sharpe pointed out, “We challenged the teachers that we wanted to reach a 90% graduation rate,” he elaborated. “They bought into what we were trying to do. The biggest thing that helped us was building relationships with students to try to get them engaged in some sort of activities, whether it was art, clubs, band, or Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) classes. If they have a hook that keeps them here, they have a better chance to graduate. Thus, we saw our graduation rate raise to over 90%.”
Another accomplishment of which Sharpe is most proud is the construction of the new high school facility. “I am honored to have been a part of the construction of the new school,” he said. “The fact that the Board gave myself and the teachers the ability to provide so much input on what went in and the design was incredible. You can’t walk through without feeling a great deal of pride.” Sharpe said he hopes that throughout the future, students know that the school administration values their work academically, athletically, and artistically.
W henaskedwhatexcited him most for this new chapter in life, Sharpe explained, “I think one of the things is the potential to impact new lives. Another thing is that in education we understand the importance of higher education. I think we have seen a shift where things are not just about college but can be career related, too. I tell students here all the time if they can learn a skill or trade, and will show up to work and treat people fairly, they can be making more money than I am in a few years, even though I have multiple college degrees.”
He added, “We know that there is a huge need in our community for workforce and skilled labor,” he continued. “It is a chance to work with our community to hopefully bridge the gap and help fill in the workforce.” Sharpe said he is excited to be able to work with students of 4 surrounding school systems, even though he will always have the Vidalia Indian Pride within him. “Vidalia has made such a tremendous impact in my life, not just as a teacher and administrator. I started going to VHS when the 8th grade was there. At that point, the teachers and coaches had so much influence and really shaped who I am and my career,” he emphasized. “There will always be part of me that will be a Vidalia Indian. But now, I represent 4 schools: Montgomery, Treutlen, Toombs, and Vidalia (at SECCA).” He noted, “I know athletically, there is that rivalry, but I always pull for our local schools and want them to excel. I am looking forward to going to supporting things that Montgomery, Treutlen, and Toombs does like I have for Vidalia. After all, you are supporting and building relationships with students.” He gave the example of the JROTC Thunderbolts, which compete throughout the state. This involves students from all four SECCA partner schools. “We are all in this together for our students,” he concluded.
Vidalia City Schools Superintendent Garrett Wilcox also commented on Sharpe’s decision to change positions. “It would be kind of hard to put in some context what Mr. Sharpe has meant to Vidalia City Schools, or obviously, to the high school over the last 9 years,” he began. “For all intents and purposes, Mr. Sharpe has been the face of Vidalia City Schools for some years. When we have community events or events in the school system, Mr. Sharpe's always there.” He continued, “He'll be extremely difficult to replace mainly because of his character, morals, and values that he brings into the job every day and the support he shows the teachers and the students. We are extremely happy to have Mr. Sharpe for another period of time to be a part of not only our school system, but the Toombs, Montgomery, and Treutlen school systems as well. When we started this process, it was amazing how much respect the other systems had for who Mr. Sharpe is and what he's done over this period of 9 years. So, we're grateful that we're able to keep him in the fold and in the role of leading our career academy.”
Wilcox summarized, “It will be a definitely big shoes to fill and a tough replacement.”
Sharpe will replace SECCA CEO Shelly Smith and Director of High School Programs David Avery, who are retiring.
SECCA Board Member Tim Smith spoke on this shift in leadership. “I spent 40 years in public education, and of all the initiatives I've been involved in, the career academy is by far the most important,” he emphasized. “Not only do we have four small, rural school systems working together, we provide multiple career pathways which can lead to immediate employment. But most importantly, we provide life-changing opportunities to our students every day.”
He noted, “I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that John Sharpe will be at the helm of SECCA. His knowledge of and strong ties to our community will serve us all well.” Smith spoke on her feelings about the change in leadership of SECCA and its future. “Big school systems offer many opportunities for their students because of their size and tax bases; smaller systems like ours can only do so by sharing students and resources. That is exactly what SECCA does.” Smith remarked, “The work is exciting for students, employers, and the community. My thanks to the school leaders for their unwavering support, to the board members who have made expansion possible, and to the staff who pivot on a moment's notice to meet students' needs. The future of SECCA is bright with John Sharpe as the CEO and Director. His experience, community ties, and deep concern for student and staff welfare make him the perfect fit for years to come.“ Director of High School Programs David Avery said he is proud of the accomplishments which SECCA has made in the last few years, including: establishing an energy pathway, adding a drone flight pathway, creating a teaching as a profession pathway, increasing healthcare classes, adding Work Based Learning for Treutlen and Montgomery Counties, adding a career technical work study and work ethic classes for special needs students, and beginning a manufacturinglogistics class for seniors.
He also reported that these classes, along with the existing JROTC, Cosmetology, and Automotive classes, had the highest enrollment in the history of SECCA during the past Fall 2021 semester with 469 students.
Avery offered his thanks to all who have been a part of his time at SECCA, and shared his future plans. “First, thanks to Shelly Smith for all of her leadership, support and guidance during the past nine years that I have served as Director of High School Programs. Also, thanks to the SECCA staff. They have been outstanding to work with and are true professionals in their field.”
He added, “I want to thank the superintendents, high school principals, high school counselors from the 4 participating school systems for all of their support and assistance in making things run smoothly, as well as the SECCA board members.”
He continued, “For me personally, I started in the education business as a teacher back in 1982. This is my 40th year in the business and it has come time to pass the baton to the next person to carry on and continue to grow SECCA for the community and area.”
He noted, “The time at SECCA has been extremely rewarding to me professionally as I have had the opportunity to hopefully make an impact on students' lives as they pursue a career. It has been a privilege to serve in this capacity. I now plan to play as much golf as I can, go to as many Georgia Southern football games as possible and hopefully to do some traveling with my wife.”
Sharpe will end the school year as principal of VHS before beginning his official contract with SECCA in July. The school system plans to begin the search soon to fill his vacated position.