When the first bell of the year rings Aug. 1, two Bartow County middle schools will have new principals at the helm.
Michael Blankenship left his position as assistant principal at Central High School in Macon to take over as principal of Woodland Middle School, while Tony Stanfill was promoted from assistant principal of Cass Middle School to principal of Adairsville Middle School, both effective July 1.
Blankenship, 47, is replacing Principal Matt Gibson, who moved to the Bartow County central office to become the executive director of federal programs and professional learning in April. Assistant Principal Ryan Satterfield served as interim principal until Blankenship started.
The new principal said he remembers exactly what he was doing when he was notified after the May school board meeting that he had been approved for the school’s top post.
“I was driving home from work in Macon when I received the call from Dr. [John] Harper, the superintendent,” said the Macon native, who now lives in Cartersville. “That is a day I shall not soon forget.”
When he heard the news that he’d been chosen, Blankenship said he was “elated.”
“Becoming a middle school principal is a dream-come-true for me,” he said. “I have worked in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. I specifically wanted to be a middle school principal. I knew early on that my ideal grade level would be the middle school level. I taught middle school. I love middle school students. I love middle school teachers. Beyond being elated, I also felt humbled. It is truly an honor to be trusted with the future of our students.”
Blankenship said he knew he wanted to be a principal when he first got started in education, but he had to wait for the right opportunity to present itself.
“I felt from the beginning that my strengths and skills were a good fit for educational leadership,” he said. “I felt that my passion for education, students and teachers could be used in this realm effectively. When I was in the classroom, several of my administrators began to encourage me to get into leadership and asked me to serve in leadership positions and roles.”
He said he specifically wanted the position at Woodland because he “researched school systems and felt that Bartow County was a good system and would be a good fit for my wife [Emily, also an educator] and me.”
“I am humbled and honored and excited to join the Bartow County School System and specifically the Woodland Middle School family,” he said. “It is a privilege to come alongside this staff and continue to strive for success with the students in this community.”
Gibson, 40, who served as principal of Kingston Elementary for four years and WMS for one year, said he applied for the executive director position “as an opportunity to positively impact a larger number of students by supporting administrators and teachers.”
“In this position, I am responsible for the system's federal programs such as Title I and Title II as well as directing the professional learning of teachers and administrators,” the Cartersville resident said, noting he transitioned to the position in April after it had been vacant for several months due to a retirement.
Blankenship plans to basically stay the course during his first year at Woodland.
“My primary plan for this upcoming year is to simply continue to implement the strategic plan, mission and vision of the Bartow County Schools,” he said. “This will be a learning year for me. Being new to the district, I have a lot to learn. Beyond that, I want to get to know the students, staff, parents and community members of Woodland Middle so that I can most effectively lead them. In order to effectively lead, you have to know people and build strong relationships.”
Blankenship holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Ministry from Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, a Master of Divinity with biblical languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a specialist degree in educational leadership from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
He has been in education 11 years — 6½ years as a teacher at Howard Middle, six months as assistant principal at Union Elementary and four years as assistant principal at Central High, all in Macon.
His wife — with whom he had two children, Melodee and Matthew, who are deceased — will be teaching PE at Cloverleaf Elementary when the school year starts.
Stanfill, 41, is taking over the principalship of Adairsville Middle from Dr. Brian Knuchel, who retired at the end of the last school year.
The Adairsville resident said he was “excited, humbled and honored” when he found out the school board had approved his appointment at the April board meeting.
"I was at Cass Middle School when the superintendent came and told me in person that he was going to recommend me to the board at the upcoming board meeting in April,” he said. “Once I was approved, he called me after the meeting, while I was in the middle of ‘bath time’ with my two girls [Olivia, 5, and Hailey, 2], to let me know the board approved his recommendation. I appreciate him letting me know personally both times, which speaks volumes of the family atmosphere here in Bartow County.”
Becoming a principal was a career goal for Stanfill, but he wanted to accomplish it in Bartow County. The AMS appointment was perfect.
“I wanted to stay in the Bartow County School District,” he said. “[AMS is] also one of the best schools in the district so I wanted the challenge which comes along [with] not only staying one of the best, but also excelling AMS even further.”
Stanfill, who is married to Amber Stanfill, is ready to get started in his new position.
“I can’t wait for next year, and I look forward to building a future and staying in Bartow County, hopefully, for the rest of my career,” he said. “The first year, I will focus on building relationships. Excellent relationships with my administrative team, faculty, staff, students, parents and community will be priority No. 1 in my first year.”
But while he’s excited about being at his new school, he’ll also miss his old school, particularly the faculty and the “strong administrative team, led by Dr. Kristy Arnold,” he said.
“Everyone is willing to help out when and where they can, yet still be extremely professional,” he said. “Cass is truly a family, and I consider Kristy Arnold, Gregg Hedden and Lyndsay Perry my brother and sisters. I will miss them greatly because we were always on the same page.”
Stanfill earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications from East Carolina University, a master’s degree in education with concentration in education leadership from Troy University and an education specialist degree in education leadership from Columbus State University.
The first-time principal is starting his 20th year in education — six years as a public-speaking and English teacher and assistant baseball coach at Smiths Station High in Smiths, Alabama; eight years as a public-speaking and 10th-grade English language arts/pre-AP teacher and head and assistant girls’ basketball coach at Northside High in Columbus; four years as assistant principal and TKES district coordinator for one year at Chattahoochee County Middle/High in Cussetta; and one year as assistant principal at Cass Middle.
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