Sharpe Headed to SECCA!

Picture of VHS Principal John Sharpe

Vidalia High School will have a new face for the first time in nine years when the 2022/23 school year begins in August. Longtime Principal John Sharpe advised his faculty and staff on Friday that he would be leaving at the end of the school year to take the position of CEO & Director of SECCA (Southeastern Early College and Career Academy).

“I told them that I had accepted the position,” said Sharpe. “I told them this was entirely my decision. And I’m excited about a new challenge to continue to be in this community. I’ve got grandchildren now, and I will be able to have a little more freedom on the weekends to spend with them. It gives me a chance to refocus, a chance to regroup. A school principal’s job is a very good one, but you’re 60, 80 hours a week, and you have to work to balance that and your personal life. This is a great opportunity. I get to stay here and continue to work; it will just be a new chapter.”

Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox, who hired Sharpe after serving one year as superintendent and Principal, said it was “difficult to put into context” how valuable Sharpe is to Vidalia High School and the system. “For all intents and purposes, Mr. Sharp has been the face of Vidalia City Schools for some years. When we have community events or events in the school system, Mr. Sharpe’s always there. He’ll be extremely difficult to replace mainly because of his character morals and values that he brings to the job every day and the support he shows the teachers and the students.”

The position at SECCA became available due to the retirement of both CEO Shelly Smith and Director of High School Programs David Avery. “I started in the education business as a teacher back in 1982,” said Avery. “This is my 40th year in the business. I have had the opportunity to hopefully make an impact on students’ lives as they pursue a career. And it has come time to pass the baton to the next person to carry on and continue to grow SECCA for the community and area. I now plan to play as much golf as I can, go to as many Georgia Southern football games as possible and hopefully to do some traveling with my wife.”

Smith, along with her husband, Dr. Tim Smith, was instrumental in helping get the Career Academy started, said that she is grateful that the academy will continue under capable hands. “Big school systems offer many opportunities for their students because of their size and tax bases.

Smaller systems like ours can only do so by sharing students and resources. That exactly is what SECCA does. My thanks to the school leaders for their unwavering support, the board members who have made expansion possible, and the staff who pivot on a moment’s notice to meet students’ needs. The future of SECCA is bright with John Sharpe as the CEO and Director. His experience, community ties, and deep concern for student and staff welfare make him the perfect fit for years to come.”

Dr. Tim Smith echoed his wife’s words, “I spent 40 years in public education, and of all the initiatives I’ve been involved in, the career academy is by far the most important.   Not only do we have four small, rural school systems working together, but we also provide multiple career pathways which can lead to immediate employment. But most importantly, we provide life-changing opportunities to our students every day. I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that John Sharpe will be at the helm of SECCA. His knowledge of and strong ties to our community will serve us all well.”

Sharpe, who will deflect credit for accomplishments, did say that he was most proud of one thing. “I think one of the things I’m most proud of is our graduation rate. You know, when I first was principal, we were in the low seventies, and that was about the average around here. When I presented this to our faculty, there were probably 45 to 50 kids a year that started the ninth grade that didn’t complete a high school education. And we knew statistics; data showed us what most likely happened to those students. And we wanted to give them an opportunity to at least open the next chapter in their life, to have a job, to provide for a family and be productive members of society.”

“So, we, challenged the teachers, we want to go to 90% graduation. And at that time, they didn’t know how in the world, we could reach 90% graduation rate, but they bought into what we were trying to do. So, we saw our graduation rate rise to over 90%. Before COVID it was 96% for six years. Even during the two COVID years, we’ve been over 90%.”

Wilcox said the process for hiring a new Principal would begin within a matter of days, but replacing Sharpe will be a challenge. “He’ll be extremely difficult to replace mainly because of his character morals and values that he brings to the job every day and the support he shows the teachers and the students. But we are extremely happy to have Mr. Sharpe for another period of time to be a part of not only our school system but the Toombs, Montgomery, and Treutlen school systems as well. When we started this process, it was amazing how much respect the other systems had for who Mr. Sharp is and what he’s done over the years. And we’re grateful, we’re able to keep him in the fold and the role of leading our career academy.”

Sharpe, a 1981 graduate of Vidalia High School, said that coming back to Vidalia as Principal was “a dream of mine” when he finished college. “My dream job when I finished college would have been to be a principal at Vidalia high school. I took several terms along the way, but I was able to get back, and there were a lot of things that we’ve been able to accomplish that I’m very proud of and proud to be a part of.”

Sharpe ended by saying he has had the pleasure to work with one of the best staffs ever assembled, “I have been able to surround myself with great employees. I think we’ve got great teachers here. They are teachers that buy into our high expectations, and they genuinely care about the students. I know that really starts all the way at the top. We’ve got a wonderful superintendent to work for. He loves this community. The three principals at the other school have challenged me to be the best I can be. These folks are working really hard but we know that it makes the community better.”