Demond Garth will start a new job as Austin High principal for the 2020-21 school year, but he'll feel right at home.
He not only attended Austin High in the 1990s, he coached there previously and knows many of the students from his past three years as a middle school and junior high principal in Southwest Decatur.
“I’m just excited to work with the students and the staff, and just really enjoy being back to Austin High School,” Garth said. “I’m very humbled and honored.”
Garth, who spent the past two years as principal at Austin Junior High, was one of three principals hired into new jobs Friday by the Decatur school board.
Mark Christopher, currently the principal of Chestnut Grove Elementary, will replace Garth as principal at Austin Junior High. Terence Hayden, currently an assistant principal at Columbia High School in Huntsville, will serve as the principal for Austin Middle School.
Garth is a lifelong resident of Decatur and a 1996 graduate of Austin High.
“I just want to continue the tradition of Austin High School,” Garth said. “I have pride knowing that my dad graduated from Austin High School in 1969.”
Garth said his father was one of three black students to graduate from Austin High that year, and was part of the first racially integrated class at the school.
Garth said his approach for handling coronavirus-related concerns will center on communication with parents and students.
“It’s going to be very unique because this is uncharted territory,” Garth said. “Change happens daily, so the main thing that I’m going to do is just make sure that my (students') parents are aware of the changes that are going on.”
Garth was principal at Cedar Ridge Middle (now called Austin Middle) during the 2017-18 school year and interim principal at West Decatur Elementary in 2016-17. He was Austin High's basketball head coach for eight years before becoming an assistant principal at Cedar Ridge Middle in 2013.
Hayden received both his bachelor’s degree and his master’s in education from Alabama A&M University, and is currently attending the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for his education specialist degree in secondary education.
Hayden is a Huntsville-area native and graduated from Sparkman High School in 2004. His experience as a teacher includes five years of teaching at Lee High School in Huntsville, where he served as the head of the social studies department.
“I’m just really looking forward to being able to serve in a position where we can continue to provide an environment that’s really nurturing, and allows students to see their full potential,” Hayden said. He added that he wants students to have the skills they will need to compete globally upon entering the workforce.
“I’m just really humbled by the opportunity to serve as the principal of Austin Middle School and I’m looking forward to a great school year,” Hayden said.
Christopher is a 2000 graduate of Austin High with 16 years of experience as an educator — 15 of which were in secondary education — and he said he is looking forward to returning to a familiar campus. Austin Junior High is housed in part of the campus used by Austin High before it moved into a new facility two years ago.
Christopher said he’s “leaving an absolutely great school and staff” at Chestnut Grove Elementary.
“(I’m) excited about the opportunity to work with Austin Junior High staff to continue the great achievements that they’ve been able to do in the short time of being a school,” he said.
Superintendent Michael Douglas said Garth and Christopher have proven track records in Decatur City Schools.
Douglas said Hayden “came extremely highly recommended from Huntsville City Schools, had stellar recommendations, and had a very strong instructional interview.”
Salaries for the three new principals weren't immediately available Friday.
The vacancies for principals at Austin High and Austin Middle were created April 30 when Melissa Scott at Austin High and Anita Clarke at Austin Middle were approved for jobs in the Central Office. Scott will fill the federal programs supervisor spot, and Clarke is taking the supervisor of secondary curriculum spot.
Board pay increase
In other business, the school board approved a 150% raise for the next board and stipends for all system employees.
Board members currently receive $300 monthly, but that will be raised to $750 monthly for the board that will be elected Aug. 25 and take office Nov. 7.
There had previously been a local law that prevented members from being paid more, but this has recently changed, according to Douglas.
“Basically, we looked at surrounding communities and what they pay their boards,” Douglas said of the board’s decision to approve the raises.
The Board also voted to provide all Decatur City Schools employees with a stipend that will be $100 after deductions. Douglas said each stipend will cost the system about $115 to $118, with the total cost between $140,000 and $150,000.
Board member Peggy Baggett said the stipend is good for morale.
Douglas said the stipend is a “pick-me-up” for employees.
“We had teachers that were pushing their own kids out of the way while they’re delivering virtual learning,” he said. “We needed to let them know, ‘Hey, we appreciate everything that you’ve done during this very trying time.’”