After an “extraordinary, illustrious career” in Blount County Schools, Earl McMahan has decided to hang up his cleats.

McMahan, who served 34 years in the district, served most recently as Heritage High’s principal. He retired effective June 30, and Prospect Elementary School Principal Jake Jones was named July 16 to succeed him.

“I’d been mulling things over in my mind,” McMahan said. “I decided it was time to step down, but I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to my staff. I want to thank them for everything they did, all their hard work. I hope they know that I’m deeply grateful to them, and I’m sure Jake will do a tremendous job.

“Heritage has excellent teachers who motivate students to do their personal best,” he said. “We also have great students, and they respond favorably to our efforts. I’m sure Heritage will reach even higher heights in the future.”

“We’re so proud of Earl, and all of his outstanding contributions throughout the years to our district,” said Blount County Director of Schools Rob Britt. “He’s had an extraordinary, illustrious career in Blount County Schools. He served both high schools as a teacher, coach and administrator.”

McMahan coached numerous sports and taught economics at the former Lanier High, Heritage High and William Blount High. He also served as an administrator at Heritage High and William Blount High.

“It was my distinct pleasure six years ago to name Earl as Heritage High’s principal,” Britt said. “He’s accomplished wonderful things and developed a great school culture focused on academic growth. Heritage High’s outstanding growth gains over the past three years have validated the great teaching and learning taking place. We’re going to miss Earl. We’re losing a lot of experience and wisdom.”

Heritage honored during tenure

During McMahan’s tenure, Heritage High emphasized maximizing the academic potential of every child. It was honored multiple times for its efforts.

Heritage High was named a 2012-13 Reward School by the Tennessee Department of Education. The department’s designation placed it within the state’s top 5 percent of schools for its annual-value-added growth.

Heritage High led the county’s four high schools in four out of seven End of Course (EOC) exams — algebra I, biology I, English I and U.S. history — the previous year in terms of its academic growth. It was ranked fifth in U.S. history, statewide.

In that same year, Heritage High had a 92.84 percent graduation rate, which is the highest in its history.

Heritage High’s social studies department improved upon its U.S. history scores that school year. It received the state’s third highest value-added score on its 2013-14 U.S. history assessments.

In an interview with The Daily Times, McMahn credited staff and students with the academic strides during his tenure. “It was all them, their effort, their hard work. I can’t take credit for it.”

Britt disagreed respectfully with that assessment. “Earl is a humble person, and he’s right that the teachers, staff and students earned those scores. However, somebody has to lead a school and wave the banner. He deserves credit like everybody else for his service and vision. He did an excellent job.”

Emphasis on students

When reflecting upon his career as a whole, McMahan noted that education has changed significantly during the past 39 years. “We’ve moved from blackboards and chalk to Google Docs and interactive whiteboards. We’ve come leaps and bounds.”

However, the educator’s focus hasn’t shifted.

“My standard of growth has always been individual students,” he said. “It’s the reason I got into education.”

McMahan, who graduated from South Broward High School in Hollywood, Fla., was influenced in this point of view by his own educational experiences. “I don’t have much of a home life when I was in school. If it wasn’t for my teachers and coaches, there’s no telling where I’d be now. There were a lot of avenues to get rich when I was in school, a lot of temptation. I was able to avoid it.

“I guess that’s why I related so much to my students,” he said. “I always stressed the importance of making the best of your opportunities. It’s a simple message. However, it’s a method to not get caught up in the negatives, not obsess about what you don’t have in life. I’m proof that it does work.”

For McMahan, the act of serving as a role model was the highest calling. The educator said he realized that after a stretch in the early ‘90s in which he served as a Franklin American Life Insurance Co. unit manager.

“I had a good experience in the private sector,” McMahan said. “However, I missed teaching and coaching. When I had the opportunity to get back into education, I jumped at it. I needed to get back to doing what I loved, sharing my experiences and knowledge with young people and working toward a common goal.”

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