As longtime secretary to the superintendent , Kim Arnold has seen her fair share of different leadership styles as various superintendents have filtered through the Cullman County Board of Education over the years.
But, none of them were quite like Billy Coleman.
Coleman’s passionate, frenzied and extremely successful tenure over the past three years led Arnold to coin a unique nickname for him — after watching him zip in and out of his office dozens of times per day.
“Our first day together I quickly named him ‘The Energizer Bunny’ and he has more than lived up to his nickname,” she laughed. “His endless energy, laughter and positive attitude, no matter the situation, will be missed. Cullman County and Cullman County Schools will reap the benefits of his servant leadership and vision for many, many years to come. It has been both a pleasure and a blessing to work with Billy Coleman for the last three-and-a -half years.”
Though Coleman’s term as elected superintendent is coming to an end early, effective today due to his planned retirement to make way for the system’s new appointed leader Dr. Craig Ross, the legacy he leaves behind will be felt for years to come.
One of his first efforts was to champion the passage of a countywide half-cent sales tax for education, which passed in a special referendum vote just two years after being voted down. Officials say that revenue has helped tremendously to bring stability to the system’s once-dire financial situation.
He also helped the system regain control of some potentially valuable Section 16 land on Smith Lake, which the board hopes can eventually bankroll a new trust fund that will serve as an additional source of revenue for the system.
Then there’s the appointed superintendent legislation, which Coleman advocated for and encouraged the board to pursue, which eventually led to its passage by legislative action last year.
“Billy Coleman will be greatly missed, and he has been a great role model for the board and really our entire system,” board member Wendy Crider said. “It would be really selfish of us to keep him all to ourselves when the whole world needs to be exposed to him.”
Fellow board member James Thompson noted Coleman’s decision to transition into a consultant role for the next several weeks as a testament to his willingness to do what he feels is best for the system’s future.
“It just shows how much he’s supported this process, that he wants to help and work with the new guy in this process,” he said.
Longtime board member Randy Hasenbein said it is “bittersweet” to see Coleman leave, though he believes an appointed system is the right direction for the district’s future.
“He makes you a better person just by being around him,” he said.
Jason Speegle, who is in his first term as a board member, said Coleman worked with him after his election to get him up to speed and helped make him a better board member.
“He really brought me under his wing and I have the utmost respect for him,” he said. “He’s a unique person and knows how to bring the best out of the worst. We’re going to really miss him.”
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.