When a person decides their career lies in the field of education, there is really only one intention driving that decision for their life. Their focal point revolves around helping children. It does not matter if the help is academic, social, or about life in general. In the end, all three aims will be realized at some point through the course of their career. And it really doesn’t matter what educational level those students are on or how many are under a teacher’s guidance at a given time. The goal of taking a child from point A to point B and knowing they are better than when you first started, is a great reward. Take that triumphant feeling and multiply it by 100 and you still probably do not come close to the feelings educators experience when students make the unsolicited trips back or write the heartfelt reflection letters to say “thanks!” Better yet, how about one of your former students giving you a ringing endorsement to take the helm of one of the largest school systems in the state? To say it was a humbling experience would be a great understatement of the moment.
It all can be found in the backstory and lead-up to the Henry County Schools Board of Education’s announcement in December that Rodney Bowler would become the next Superintendent. He follows the three-year tenure of Dr. Ethan Hildreth, while vacating the same assistant superintendent position Hildreth did when he ascended to the top educational post in Henry County. Hildreth announced his retirement plans in September, stepping down effective April 1, 2014.
From day one, the job affords no time for jokes. The start date of Bowler’s tenure may be popularly known for its world-wide connection to humor and tomfoolery, but Bowler’s goals and ambitions for his newest job show a serious approach. He will continue to build on the strong foundation Henry County Schools (HCS) has in place, embracing the changing dynamics of personalizing learning for students in the state’s seventh largest district. To face this new challenge, Bowler will rely upon the district’s strongest suit – its people.
A Georgian since the age of 10, this married father of two was born on the plains of Emporia, Kansas, and spent part of his childhood in New Jersey. Prior to marrying his wife, Kimberly, Bowler served as a counselor at the Roosevelt Wilderness Outdoor Therapeutic Program, in Warm Springs, Georgia. This first job was taken on the heels of earning a psychology degree from Georgia State University.
“Over the course of the next two years, I worked directly with middle school-aged students who were managing the challenges of being severely behaviorally disabled,” said Bowler. The time spent with this group left a deep impression on Bowler and influenced his future career plans. He knew there was room and opportunity to do more.
One year after marrying his wife, Bowler accepted a position at Eagle’s Landing High School as a special education teacher for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. This new position within the school system in 1991 would start the steep ascension to his new job in 2014. If not for encouragement from mentors and peers, the idea of becoming an administrator may not have been a part of Bowler’s plans. While he indicates the thought of an administrative position crossed his mind, it was the humbling encouragement he received from leaders at the school, including Dr. Ralph Lynch, that propelled him to take steps in that direction.
“After being encouraged to move into the field of administration by Dr. Lynch, along with other teachers and administrators, I accepted the call,” Bowler shared. “I realized that through the field of educational administration I would be able to expand my scope of influence and ultimately have a greater impact on the lives of more students.”
Four years after heeding the encouragement and embarking on the challenge, Bowler’s efforts were recognized and he landed the position as assistant principal for Eagle’s Landing High School. Growth was the operative word required to describe that first foray into educational administration. Perspectives change when moving from in front of the classroom to in front of the entire school. The information and experience gleaned from his time as an assistant principal prepared him for the daunting challenge of opening up a brand new high school. You can have a wealth of experience in building management, but that does not make it any less difficult to open up a brand new facility.
Up to this point in his career, Bowler had been able to find what he believed to be the best way to approach leading a school. Strikingly similar to youthful insight into future endeavors and scenarios, Bowler had an idea of how he saw a school operating under his guidance, and the idea was ample reason to seek the task of opening Union Grove High School as its inaugural principal.
Successfully guiding Union Grove High School to one of the more recognized schools in the state, let alone the county, was a great career accomplishment for Bowler. It stems from, according to him, “having a vision for student success that is rooted in the philosophy that all children can be successful in an environment that demands that students excel and are not allowed to take the path of least resistance. I believe now, like I did then, that all students will rise to the challenge of high expectations so long as they are provided with an educational environment that is rooted in rigor, relevance, and relationships.”
The next progression in Bowler’s career was accepting a position in the school district’s central office. And after four years as Director of Human Resource Services, Bowler earned a spot on the superintendent’s senior staff as Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services. It can be said that each and every human being is the sum of their experiences, and there is no doubt Bowler’s many experiences have been instrumental in shaping him into the leader he is today.
Part of one’s abilities and characteristics can be those attributes and qualities gained from individuals with whom you have the most contact and interaction. Education is a personal and personnel business, people interacting with people every day. Bowler is quick to note his good fortune of serving with and for some great individuals, including the superintendents he is now following. Without hesitation, he highlights that each superintendent had in common “their strong duty of service and their character of humbleness.”
Serving as an assistant superintendent carries an enormous amount of responsibility. The public spotlight shines heavier on the leader in charge. People in the community want to know the right person is in that job. Bowler feels confident his passion for education and academic achievement, coupled with safety and security for all individuals occupying classrooms and offices in the district, will fulfill people’s expectations that Henry County Schools be recognized as a great school system in Georgia and beyond. “It is important to me that people know I am passionate about my love of children and our mission of ensuring success for each student.”
The job he steps into will not be easy. Bowler knows the field of education is ever changing. Increasing student achievement while providing multiple options for individualized learning, is one of the greatest needs. Capitalizing on options like Impact Academy (the school district’s virtual learning option) or the Academy for Advanced Studies (the second largest college and career academy in Georgia) which gives students opportunities to learn work-ready skills and, or earn college credit….will be key to keep Henry County Schools near the top.
Navigating the ebb and flow of revenues to ensure that needs are met across the district, requires tough decisions and creative solutions. These challenges are ever pressing on the hearts and minds of those working to provide an outstanding education for students from the earliest education settings to graduation and beyond.
No matter what the challenge, Bowler is up to the task. He stands ready to lead a dynamic group of students, teachers, staff, board members, and our community in general — into the future. He has witnessed firsthand the resiliency of a district and community that have experienced many changes and rapid growth over the past 20 years. Bowler likes what he has to work with; and he cherishes the opportunity to give back to the community that has given him so much.