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Principal Coleman says goodbye to friends and school

POSTED: May 23, 2013 12:11 a.m.
Nat Gurley/The Times

Flowery Branch HIgh School principal Mark Coleman walks the halls before his retirement

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Mark Coleman and the late Chris Mance spent the last few years preparing for retirement.

Both high school principals in Hall County, Coleman at Flowery Branch and Mance at Gainesville, purchased cottages in their hometown of Clayton.

“We were going to retire and go back home and enjoy doing all the things we used to do when we were just coach and player,” Coleman said of Mance, whom he had as a student early in his career.

But in April 2012, Mance died of esophageal cancer, without ever getting that chance. Coleman, a longtime friend, had visited him often in the hospital.

“He said ‘If you can retire, you need to. And you need to do (the things you want to do). Because I’m not going to get to,’” Coleman said as his eyes watered. “That just sent a chill through me because I thought, ‘He’s right.’ Three days later he died.”

Coleman said he prayed long and hard about the decision. After a lot of careful thought, he concluded that it was time to start living his dreams.

That didn’t make it easy to leave the school where he’s served since 2001, though.

Not long after the day started Wednesday, he took a few minutes to quietly walk through the halls.

“I’m kind of just soaking it up right now,” he said. “Because in a few days it’ll all be over with.” He retires May 31, after 36 years in education.

Coleman has worked in Hall County since 1993 when he was the assistant principal of West Hall Middle School. He also served as the principal of Friendship Elementary School from 1995 to 2001.

“He has had a hand in opening four different schools in Hall County,” Superintendent Will Schofield said. “West Hall Middle, Friendship Elementary, Flowery Branch High and the new Flowery Branch High (School). I appreciate his attention to detail, his servant’s heart and his common-sense approach to schooling and life. This district will miss him.”

Coleman began his career at Rabun County High School in 1977 as a health and physical education teacher.

It was there Coleman’s career in leadership and the relationship that prompted his retirement began.

Coleman said he was “thrust into the fires of leadership very quickly.”

As a 32-year-old principal and athletic director, Coleman said he was probably too young for the role but did the best he could with what he had.

He admits he made mistakes early on but fortunately many of the same teachers who taught him as a student were still working at the school when he became principal and helped guide him.

Coleman said the experience taught him valuable lessons such as patience, setting priorities and the importance of listening to teachers, lessons he carried with him throughout his career.

Coleman said he was fortunate to have met many great teachers and students over the years.

In his first year working as a coach in Rabun County, Coleman taught Mance, then a senior at the school.

Coleman and Mance became close friends over the years as Mance came back to the school after class in college to help coach the seventh- and eighth-grade sports teams.

The pair stayed in touch over the years and when Mance became principal of Gainesville High School in 2009, Coleman said he felt proud of the man he’d watched Mance become.

The pair often had cookouts and played golf together. As former coaches, they enjoyed a friendly rivalry when their schools competed at sporting events.

“He loved Gainesville High,” Coleman said “I loved Flowery Branch. We both loved to compete against each other. But underneath it all there was a true friendship and respect and love for each other.”

Now, Coleman will honor his friend by enjoying his retirement.

He has been hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail for the last two years and will begin a two-month hike the day after his last day at Flowery Branch.

He said he’s looking forward to having quiet time, alone with just his thoughts and nature, to reflect on his life and everything else he hopes to accomplish.

“I’ll be honest, I’m excited because I feel like another chapter of my life’s book is fixin’ to open up,” Coleman said. “And this one will close and open another. I’ve still got a lot of things I want to do.”

The thought of not having to be at school every morning at 6:45 is hard to get used to, Coleman said, but he doesn’t worry about the school’s future.

He said he feels confident the school’s new principal, Jason Carter, will lead it to more successes and accomplishments.

Coleman said he couldn’t imagine the end of his career any other way.

“It just worked out that I’m winding up my career doing exactly what I want to be doing,” Coleman said. “This is where I wanted to finish, at a high school with a very supportive community with successful extracurricular programs, strong academics, strong test scores. It’s just exactly where I want to be.”


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