Principal Steve Cole has done it all at LaGrange High School – at least he admits to 95 percent of everything – from waxing floors to administrative duties, but the retiring principal will miss some of the hectic pace he’s worked for the last 29 years.
Cole will retire at the end of the school year. He’s spent 10 years as LaGrange High School’s principal and always has taken a hands-on approach to his job. However, Cole didn’t originally intend to get into education.
He graduated with a political science degree from LaGrange College and had hoped to go to law school. Those plans fell through and he worked at Milliken then Interface Flor for a couple of years, but it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
Cole’s wife was in education and one night they ran into Daves Nichols, who has served as a school system administrator and board member, at Golden Corral, and they began to talk.
“I said I had a slight interest in education and he began to encourage and mentor me, and talk about how I could get into education,” Cole said.
Cole began the process of getting his educational degree in spring of 1983. Then he received a call from Nichols asking him to interview for a job at Berta Weathersbee Elementary School, even though Cole hadn’t yet received his degree in education, Nichols promised “we will work on that.”
In the fall of 1983, Cole started his career in the LaGrange City School System as a teacher at Berta Weathersbee with a provisional teaching certificate while he also worked toward his full degree at LaGrange College. He went on to get a master’s degree and spent five years at Berta.
“I loved it and Mr. Nichols was a continuous mentor,” Cole said.
In 1988, Nichols encouraged Cole to get into school administration. He started working on his administrative certification at Troy State University and in 1989 went to Hollis Hand Elementary School as assistant principal.
Cole was a half-time assistant principal and half-time teacher, but said it was more like working two full-time jobs. Cole then became assistant principal at Southside Elementary School and later principal.
When the LaGrange City School System and Troup County School System merged in 1995, Cole was reassigned to LaGrange High School as assistant principal under principal Mickey McCoy. In his new position, Cole became involved in many aspects of the school, from supervising programs to custodial work.
During his time at LaGrange High School, Cole has found himself rolling up his sleeves to do many projects, but one in particular stands out to him more than a decade later. In 1999, school administrators and project managers met four days before school was to begin while a renovation project was underway.
“School was set to start on Friday, and we met that Monday at 8 a.m. The upstairs had no floors, no ceilings and all the furniture had been pulled out and was in the cafeteria, piled high to the ceiling,” Cole said. “The question was can we pull this off?”
After a lot of discussion about whether to postpone the start of the school year, which would mean postponing for the entire school system, Cole and McCoy decided to go for it. The two joined work crews and with help from volunteers and city of LaGrange workers, they finished the job with no time to spare.
“We laid wax on all those floors, and by we, I mean Mr. McCoy and me,” Cole said. “By Thursday morning we had all the floors laid. … We were the last two people laying wax Friday morning and Mr. McCoy and I left a quarter to 3 in the morning, and we had kids in there at 7. The wax just had time to dry before the kids walked on it.”
Cole’s hands-on approach meant he’s painted during summers, pressure washed on weekends and even filled in for lunch-serving duty in the cafeteria over the years.
McCoy retired in 2001 and was succeeded by Dan Hampton, who only served for a year. With Hampton leaving, Cole decided to put his name in for principal.
“At that time, I was so in the middle of what was going on here, I decided I might as well apply for the job.” Cole said with a matter-of-fact tone. “So I did, and I’ve been here 10 years.”
Being principal means long hours, constantly being on call and always moving at a fast pace, but Cole enjoyed the hustle and his time as principal.
“I’ve said so many times that for the last 10 years I’ve had the best job in the Troup County School System,” Cole said. “I’ve been principal of a unique, fantastic high school with such history and heritage. I’m going to miss being that person. There will always be a part of LaGrange High School in me.”
Cole said he hopes to continue to support the school after his retirement. He also may not be done with his education and is considering teaching future educators at a college or university.
After almost 30 years in local schools, and seeing other school systems in the state, Cole said he feels the Troup County School System does a superior job. He hopes the community will be able to see the value of the school system as he has.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and appreciate being employed with LaGrange city schools and the Troup County School System,” Cole said. “People really don’t understand what a great school system there is here. I wish there were more people who could understand and appreciate the dedication of the teachers, administrators, board of education and leadership in this community.”