Administrators at Oakman High School are fostering a family atmosphere at the school and in the community that has meant so much to them.
Leathan Waid took the reigns as principal of Oakman High at the beginning of this school year after serving five years as the school's assistant principal. Natalie Carson, who has been teaching for 13 years at Oakman High, is now assistant principal.
Both administrators traveled different paths to be where they are today, but they have the same vision in mind for leading Oakman High.
The journey begins
Waid graduated from Oakman High in 2004. He then attended the University of Montevallo where he majored in biology and later received a master's degree in education. He first taught middle school science at T.S. Boyd School for five years, and when the school closed he became assistant principal at Oakman High.
Carson is now in her 17th year of education. She grew up in Jackson County and received her undergraduate degree at Auburn University. The majority of her career has been spent at Oakman High, where she has taught English and family and consumer science.
Waid and Carson were both encouraged by Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood to pursue administrative careers in education.
Hagood hired Carson as a teacher when he was principal at Oakman High.
"In the beginning, I would say to him, 'I don't think I want to leave the classroom. I love my time in the classroom,'" Carson said. "It took me a while to get to the point that I was ready to leave that area and step into this role here."
Carson credits her former high school business teacher, Deborah Miller, for inspiring her to be an educator, as well as her 11th-grade English teacher, Betty Esslinger.
When Carson was in college — originally on a pre-engineering track — she volunteered to work with some teenagers for a sorority project, and that's ultimately what cemented her decision to be an educator.
"For me, it was about falling in love with working with teenagers. I never really cared what subject I was teaching as long as I was working with teenagers. That's where I felt like my heart was," she said.
Hagood was Waid's eighth-grade history teacher at Oakman High and later encouraged him to be an administrator, along with Cordova Elementary Principal Dianne Williams and Sumiton Elementary Principal Kristy Wheeler.
Waid's original love for education was something instilled in him from the time he was a boy.
He recalled visiting schools with his father, Darrell Waid, who was once a custodian and is now a maintenance supervisor for the Walker County Board of Education.
"Growing up, I was always around teachers. I was always around principals, so I was always comfortable in a school setting," Waid said. "I always enjoyed my time in school, especially here at Oakman High School, so when it came time to make that decision of what am I going to do for the rest of my life, it was just kind of natural."
Waid said his math and science teacher at Oakman High, Barry Barnett, also made him passionate about education.
A 'family atmosphere'
Since Carson and Waid took the reigns at Oakman High, they have made it a priority to encourage students to have ownership in their school.
In a new endeavor, both meet weekly with the school's SGA officers to hear their ideas and any concerns expressed by the student body. Those conversations led to a recent serve day at the school that divided students into groups to tackle cleaning and other projects.
Students also spent last Friday learning various skills from their teachers that wouldn't be taught during an ordinary school day.
Carson said students have started tailgating this year before each home football game.
"It has gone really well and has given the students an opportunity to fellowship," Carson said.
The administrators also want to start a freshman orientation day next year where rising freshmen can visit the school over the summer and become acclimated with their new surroundings, learn school traditions, etc.
Waid said there are many new faces around campus this year, so everyone is working hard to develop family bonds.
"We want to create an environment where our students and our teachers have a family atmosphere, but also where our teachers are comfortable having their families around," Waid said.
Proud to be Wildcats
Waid and Carson were sentimental when they talked about why they love Oakman High School.
Even though Carson didn't grow up in Oakman, she admits that it has become home.
"I can't imagine spending the bulk of my career anywhere else. The people here are great. It's a close-knit community. They have taken me in from day one, and I have never felt like I wasn't part of this community," she said. "My oldest child graduated from Oakman High School last year. I have three other children that are at the middle school that will all graduate from here. I'm proud that they're going to graduate from Oakman and that we've been able to make Oakman our place."
Waid said Oakman will always bring back fond memories, especially on his walks down the hallways when he sees generations of his family in the graduating class photos.
Oakman is also home to his wife, Millie Waid, who is a fifth-grade math teacher at Oakman Middle School.
"I just have this natural connection to Oakman, and I never lived in Oakman. Growing up, I never did live in the town limits. If you were to ask me where my hometown is, to this day, I would still tell you, Oakman, because I have such a strong connection to this community," he said. "This school is such a huge part of this community. Being a Wildcat is who my family was and still is."