Just a few short weeks ago, Ley Hathcock was preparing for the start of his third year as principal of Martin Technology Academy of Math & Science, a STEM-oriented elementary school in the Hall County district.
But, oh, how quickly things can change.
“Opportunities don’t always arise when you want them to … or when you plan for them to arise,” Hathcock said.
That goes for Hathcock and former West Hall High School Principal Scott Justus, who accepted a job with White County Schools over the summer.
Hathcock said he was tabbed to replace Justus the day before teachers arrived to begin preparing for the new academic year – about a week before the first day of school on Aug. 7.
Hathcock added that administrators approached him “knowing, I think, that’s something that would interest me.”
“Ley Hathcock … has an amazing background and is prepared through his education and experiences to lead West Hall High School to places few high schools are able to consider,” Superintendent Will Schofield said when announcing the leadership change. “He is a man of unquestionable character and wisdom.”
Hathcock only began his new work at West Hall High this week, and said he has been boosted by a “talented and amazing” staff, faculty, students, parents and wider community.
“They’ve lost their principal and that’s hard,” Hathcock said. “My agenda has to be to just walk in with open ears and, for the most part, a closed mouth.”
But the transition certainly “feels right,” he added.
Hathcock said he has lived near the school for years, attending football games and other events on campus. His wife teaches at Flowery Branch Elementary, and many of his and her students over the years have now matriculated to West Hall High.
“This is home,” Hathcock said.
Meanwhile, Jeri Lynn Hutchins, who has served as Martin’s assistant principal since 2004, has assumed the role of interim principal at that school.
“Those are some of the most thoughtful folks,” Hathcock said. “I know that if (Schofield) thinks this is the right move, there’s a good chance it probably is.”
Hathcock described Hutchins as “phenomenal” and more than ready for the job.
It wasn’t easy to leave Martin elementary, however. Hathcock had planned all summer for its students, lining up goals and priorities for the new school year.
“We had some exciting things on the docket for Martin this year,” he said.
But, with a nod toward humility, Hathcock said, “The ‘Ley things’ aren’t the things that matter, anyway.”
Hathcock came to the education profession later in life than most teachers and administrators.
He spent 25 years working as an engineer, a defense contractor, with NASA on fire-detection systems, and owned a firm with two partners.
“We did some very interesting things all over the planet with respect to environmental remediation,” Hathcock said. “I’ve been very fortunate.”
But after 10 years running his own business, Hathcock realized he wanted something more meaningful to him in his work.
“One day you wake up and you’re not doing what you wanted to do,” he said. “It’s rare for someone to be able to have that opportunity (to change careers after so long), especially voluntarily.”
So, Hathcock took advantage.
But he had assumed that with a doctorate in chemistry, he might waltz right in and teach most anywhere.
Hathcock soon learned otherwise and enrolled at the University of North Georgia.
Going back to school himself to become an educator was “revitalizing in a lot of ways,” he said.
Now, after nearly a decade working for Hall County Schools, Hathcock is ready to bring his professional background, or “outside-of-education” knowledge, to bear on West Hall High.
For starters, he wants to stress to students and faculty the relevance of what they are learning and teaching.
Traditional educational approaches have done well at stripping away the interest and curiosity needed to learn and teach through an over-reliance on standardized testing, Hathcock said. Explaining why a subject is important to learn, understand and relay can help all parties better engage in the school’s ultimate mission.
“And if you get engagement, you’ll get achievement,” Hathcock said.