McCollough, 36, now superintendent of Greene County schools was named by Georgia Trend magazine as one of the top "40 under 40" Georgians in its October magazine. Greene County is between Atlanta and Augusta.
"Excuses have no place in discussions" with McCollough, says the magazine, "when it comes to talking about problems that plague school systems."
"I was deeply honored to be singled out because there are so many deserving leaders here in Georgia," McCollough said of the recognition.
McCollough was principal when Gainesville Exploration Academy opened in 2003 and there when state and federal officials took note of the school’s high scores on basic-skills tests, despite having a high Hispanic, high-poverty student body.
President Bush mentioned the school’s success in his September 2004 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
McCollough left in July 2005 to become superintendent of the Maricopa County Regional School District in metropolitan Phoenix.
He couldn’t be reached for comment, but he did offer some comments in an e-mail last week about events of the last couple of years.
The Arizona stint "was a fantastic experience," he said. "Any time you get a chance to work in a different community, you are bound to gain some great experiences.
"Surprisingly, the challenges were very similar to those we face here in Georgia. Maricopa County is all inner city, high poverty, high minority. And as we found in Gainesville, kids can defy the stereotypes if teachers and principals believe in them."
However, "I made it no secret that (Georgia) is my home and I wanted to return when the right opportunity presented itself."
McCollough said that Greene County school officials contacted him in the spring of 2006 and asked if he would consider returning to Georgia. He has been in Greene since July 2006.
"Things have been great," he said. "We have (a school board) that has a brave vision for change and has taken the necessary steps to follow Gainesville city’s example of excellence."
The work has been "bumpy at times," though.
"When I was appointed, Greene had a budget that was in a deficit of over a million dollars and faced immediate sanctions from the state," McCollough said.
"We had to take some difficult steps during the first couple of months, including a comprehensive staffing analysis, departmental audits and, unfortunately, a reduction in force."
After 10 straight years of depleting school system savings, the district "has finally reversed the trend and has started saving money in 2007," McCollough said.
He said academics are on the rise in Greene, as well.
"After only one year, Greene County High School has experienced the highest test scores ever on the graduation test, tripled the amount of students enrolling in college and increased Advanced Placement (course) offerings by 300 percent."
McCollough said he stays in touch with his old boss, Gainesville city schools Superintendent Steven Ballowe, "now that I have joined the Georgia superintendent fraternity."
"I have learned so much in my career from him," he said. "... I am truly blessed that he has continued guiding me in my development as a superintendent."
Ballowe said he was "certainly pleased to learn of the honor for Shawn and am very proud of his accomplishments."