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Ask Bartow County Superintendent John Harper why he chose to become an educator and his answer is anything but clichéd. Burden Leadership: Standing Strong when Facing Adversity 14 | KNOW • Volume 13 Issue 3 arper, who began his forty-five year career in education as a high school athletics coach and teacher, says, “Our time here should have a mission and a purpose…” Because a teacher had made a difference in his life, working as a public school educator to serve the needs of the community as a way to give back has certainly become his life’s mission and passion. It was a natural progression for Harper to take up the mantel of leadership in becoming an administrator. “I could work with up to 150 students a day as a classroom teacher, but if I moved into administration – that would give me a larger pool of students to work with,” Harper recalled on his decision to leave the classroom to lead through service at the administrative level. Before being named Superintendent in Bartow County, Harper was the Associate Superintendent for the school district. It was in this capacity where he first met GAE UniServ Director Rachel Blankenship. “Rachel asked me one day why I wasn’t a member of GAE, and I never thought that as an administrator that GAE would be an organization that I would endear myself to,” he said. But after hearing Rachel explain the benefits of membership and learning the rationale behind having GAE backing him as an educator, he joined six years ago. “GAE’s support of our staff is very powerful,” Harper notes about Georgia’s oldest professional educator organization. At the time of his joining, Superintendent Harper never imagined he would ever be in need of GAE’s support and legal services, especially because his main focus at work centered on his students and fellow educators under his stewardship. Nevertheless, Harper received a letter from the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) detailing an allegation of supposed wrongdoing as Bartow County Superintendent. “I was in shock,” he recalled. “After 45 years in education to have an allegation against you that was serious – particularly from the Professional Standards Commission. But it was centered around decisions I make as superintendent - which cause people to be unhappy with you at times.” His first call after reading the PSC’s letter was to his local GAE advocate and UniServ Director Rachel Blankenship. She connected Harper to GAE legal defense network attorney Julie Oinonen. “One of the things I appreciated about my relationship with Julie was that she was very clear with me ‘I’m going to guide you and direct you in what I think you need to do…’” Harper said about Oinonen. “And once she thoroughly looked into the allegations against me, she felt very comfortable that there was no The of


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