Barber Greene Wheaton
From left are Trace Crossings Elementary Principal Carol Barber, Assistant Superintendent Melody Greene and Greystone Elementary Principal Kathy Wheaton. Together, they have more than 120 years in education.
Three veteran Hoover school administrators have turned in retirement papers to the school board.
Melody Greene, a longtime Hoover educator who has been an assistant superintendent the past three years, is retiring May 31.
Carol Barber, who spent 18 years as principal at Simmons Middle School, 5 ½ years as assistant superintendent and the past 3 ½ years as principal at Trace Crossings Elementary, is retiring July 1.
Kathy Wheaton, who spent 18 years as principal at Berry Middle School and the past three years as principal at Greystone Elementary, is retiring Sept. 1.
Greene said she started teaching when she was 21 and is turning 60 this year and decided she wanted to start investing her time in a different way.
The time demands of an assistant superintendent job are massive, she said. She has a lot of workdays that stretch 12 to 14 hours, a lot of times seven days a week, and she doesn't know how she would have made it without the support of her husband, she said.
“I had to ask myself: Is this the best investment of my time and energy, and the answer to that question was no,” Greene said.
She has four children and 12 grandchildren, and “I want to spend time with family,” she said.
Her mother always taught her that whatever she did in life, to put 110 percent into it, she said. She decided that if she could no longer do that with the assistant superintendent job, it was time to let someone else do it, she said.
“To everything, there is a season,” she said. “I believe my season here is done.”
Greene, who graduated from the former Berry High School, started her teaching career at John Carroll Catholic High School and stayed there two years. She then filled in for a teacher at Berry High for a year before taking seven years off to raise young children at home.
In the fall of 1988, just as Hoover opened its own school system, she came back to teach English and literature at Berry. Berry transformed into Hoover High School in 1994, and Greene continued at Hoover until 2006. She served as director of the Hoover High International Baccalaureate program from 2001 to 2006.
She then worked five years as an assistant principal at Pelham High School and one year as an assistant principal at Spain Park High School before being pulled to work in the central office in November 2012. She officially became assistant superintendent in July 2013.
As assistant superintendent for administration, she is the “office of complaints and problems,” she said.
“I like solving problems. I like helping get things back in order and finding positive solutions, even if they don’t make everybody happy,” she said.
She has been blessed to do a little bit of everything throughout her career and has loved working for Hoover City Schools, she said. She’ll miss the people and great friends she has made through work over the years, and she’ll miss contributing because she believes in the power of education, she said.
She has been pleased to see the focus of education shift away from mastering subject matter to learning how to learn and use critical thinking skills to solve problems and work with other people, she said.
“Yes, you have to master the knowledge, but you have to learn to apply it,” Greene said. “Once you have that skill, there’s really nothing that can stand in your way.”
Greene said she loved her job as an administrator but her greatest satisfaction came from teaching in the classroom. “You never cease to be amazed at the depth those children bring,” she said. “They taught me far more than I could ever have taught them.”
In retirement, she said she would like to teach at the Sunshine School at Children’s Hospital, which helps children keep up with their education while in the hospital. One of her grandsons had cancer, and she knows how much of a struggle it is, she said.
She also hopes to travel with her husband, Hoover Councilman John Greene, to places such as New York, Pearl Harbor and Costa Rica, she said.
Barber has been with Hoover City Schools since the system began in 1988. She worked about a year as director of curriculum and instruction and then served 18 years as principal at Simmons Middle School, where she was named a Middle School Principal of the Year for Alabama.
She was promoted to assistant superintendent soon after Andy Craig was made permanent superintendent in 2007 and served in the central office for 5 ½ years. She came to Trace Crossings as principal in November 2012 when former Trace Crossings Principal Robin Litaker was reassigned to other administrative duties.
Barber said at the time she was moving to Trace Crossings to help resolve strife, low morale among the faculty and a negative culture at the school.
Litaker claimed those conditions were not present at Trace Crossings and filed a federal lawsuit against the school system, claiming she was denied due process, treated unfairly because of her gender, and subjected to libel and slander by Craig and Barber. That lawsuit is still pending.
Barber this week declined to talk about the lawsuit but said she believes Trace Crossings, which also had become the heart of the debate about school test scores and rezoning, is at a much better place now.
“I believe that where the school is is where it needs to be, and it will be in good hands no matter what,” Barber said. “It’s a very strong staff” that has played a leading part in some of the educational movements in Alabama toward project-based learning and innovative instruction in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, she said.
“There are some outstanding teachers in this building,” she said. “You just have to get out of their way and let them do their job … They’re in a good position to be able to move and to soar.”
Personally, Barber said she is ending her 49th year in education and ready to devote more time to her family. She has a daughter in Virginia who just gave birth to Barber’s second grandchild, and she wants to spend more time with them, she said.
She has “loved every single day” of her 49 years in education, she said. “I have enjoyed not only what I do, but the people with whom I’ve had the privilege of working,” she said.
Before coming to Hoover, Barber served as a classroom teacher in Illinois, Missouri, Texas and Kansas, a central office administrator, principal and teacher in Colorado, and the director of elementary education in Portsmouth, Va.
While she spent many years at a middle school in Hoover, her first teaching assignment and first administrative assignment both were in elementary schools, and it’s fitting that she ends her career in an elementary school, she said.
“I absolutely adored both levels,” she said. They’re different, and each has their strengths and challenges, “but I feel so fortunate to have been able to have the opportunity to work at both levels.”
Her best memories are of times being in schools working directly with students and teachers, she said.
“I love being around the children,” Barber said. “I like being in an environment where you can have that daily contact with kids.”
Being a principal is the ideal job in education because you get to work with teachers yet still build relationships with students, their parents and the community, she said.
Her only regret is that sometimes she put her work as a priority over her family, she said. “Doing school and doing it right takes lots and lots of time,” she said. “You can’t shut it off at 4 or 5 o’clock at night.”
Barber said she expects there will be many applicants for the principal job at Trace Crossings.
Wheaton is completing her 42nd year in education. She, too, got her start in an elementary school as a substitute teacher in second and third grades in Portsmouth, Va., she said.
She started teaching in Portsmouth City Schools in 1974 and spent one year as an assistant principal in a junior high school before coming to serve as an assistant principal at Berry High School when Hoover formed its own school system in 1988. She made the transition to the new Hoover High School when it opened in 1994 and was named principal of Berry Middle School when it opened in 1995.
She remained as principal at Berry for 18 years until being asked to take over at Greystone Elementary three years ago. Leaving Berry was not easy for her because of the many relationships she had built there over the years, but Wheaton answered the call and made the move.
She said people at Greystone have been kind and welcoming to her and it has been a wonderful experience. It's just time to move on to the next phase of her life, she said.
"I've been very, very blessed. I've had a wonderful career, outstanding opportunities," she said. "It's just time to go and let the next generation have it ... I don't want to get to the point where I can't give what I need to give to the job. Everybody's kid deserves people at the top of their game."
Retiring was not an easy decision, she said. "It took me a while to get here."
Her fondest memories have been hearing from former students as they moved on to other phases of their lives about how something she did made a difference in their lives, she said. She also has enjoyed hearing stories from parents and grandparents about how children she taught or led have accomplished various things, she said.
Some of them had a tough time and found their way, while others always had a dream and were able to follow it through, she said.
A lot of her best memories are the little things, such as students at Berry lining up to form a giant ribbon to show support for people dealing with breast cancer, she said. On the last day of school this year, the entire student body at Greystone gathered in the lobby area to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and recite the Pledge of Allegiance together — another special moment, she said.
Those times where students and faculty come together with a common bond mean a lot, she said.
This article was updated to correct the number of years that Melody Greene was at Pelham High School and the retirement date for Kathy Wheaton, and to add comments from Wheaton about her retirement.