The Carrollton Board of Education Tuesday night honored its long-time leader who transitions to retirement following 37 years of service as a school board member.
Dr. James C. Pope, board chairman, called his last meeting to order that night. As the meeting progressed, board members thanked Pope for his years of service and for the vital role he has played in their personal development as school board members.
“Dr. Pope, I can’t say enough to thank you for your commitment to Carrollton City Schools,” said Melanie McLendon, an at-large member of the board.
“I admire and respect you for your candid comments,” said Ward 1 representative Greg Dothard. “You don’t let political correctness get in the way of saying what you want. And it is always about what is best for kids.”
Dr. Jason Mount, who represents Ward 3, noted he first met Pope when he came to Carrollton to become an emergency room physician. Pope was a mentor of his in that role as well as becoming a mentor when Mount joined the school board in January 2010.
“One of the key things he taught us as school board members is to let school administrators and teachers – the education professionals – do what they think is best in the classroom. He made sure we understood that it is the school board’s job to ensure policies and resources are in place to support them. This wisdom has prevented Carrollton from having a divided school board. I can say all school districts are not like this.”
Katie Williams, Ward 2, said Pope took her under his wing when she succeeded his long-time friend and fellow board member, Joe McGinnis, who retired in December 2013.
“I had big shoes to fill and Dr. Pope showed me the ropes. And because of Dr. Pope, I am now a GSBA (Georgia School Boards Association) nerd,” she said.
At-large board member David Godwin summed up what most consider Dr. Pope’s most significant legacy: “It’s not about us (school board members), but about the institution.”
Pope joined the board in October 1983, succeeding another long-time board member, Dr. T.E. Reeve, who vacated the post to retire from public service. Pope has served consecutive terms since well into his 37th year, making him the longest-serving board member in Carrollton City Schools history.
Special guests attending Pope’s last board meeting were members of his family and Dr. Ronnie Williams, who served as school superintendent from 1994-2001. Also attending was Greg Schulenburg, who ran unopposed to succeed Pope as the Ward 4 representative on the board.
Mark Albertus, superintendent, noted Pope impacted more than education in the community.
“Dr. Pope’s 36-year career as a general surgeon and the leadership roles he held as a public servant and as a professional were time-consuming commitments that few volunteer to do,” said Albertus. “He has been an important mentor to me, sharing institutional knowledge, giving hard advice when necessary, while demonstrating his support of the school system at all costs.”
Pope’s legacy, however, isn’t just the words of his actions, but the physical remains of these efforts. When asked by a reporter prior to the meeting what makes him most proud of his years on the board, the answer was simple: “I’ve been involved in the construction of every building on this campus.” During his tenure on the board, Pope has been personally involved in the decision-making of every school site, from Carrollton Junior High School’s 1986 construction to the final phases of the new replacement Carrollton High School.
When Pope first ran for office on Sept. 6, 1983, it was the only time he faced opposition. In a Sept. 1 election preview article in the Times-Georgian featuring the results of a candidates questionnaire sponsored by the Carrollton/Carroll County League of Women Voters, Pope summed up his campaign platform:
“There should be more emphasis on basic educational skills such as math, English and basic sciences,” Pope wrote. “Advanced study in math and science should be more readily available. The community must be made aware of the importance of good public education and be encouraged to participate in the decisions made to improve public education. The school system must be made aware of changing requirements in the job market and modify its studies as necessary.”
Many would argue those prophetic words still hold true today.