Most folks in Tallapoosa County just know that Joe Windle is the superintendent of the county school system. Some recall when he was principal at Reeltown high school.
What most do not know is that prior to becoming part of the school system, he spent 28 years in the U.S. Army retiring in 1996 as a full colonel. He had a number of important assignments, including Chief of Staff of the Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. He oversaw a $120 million annual budget and training for 40,000 soldiers a year.
Growing up at Reeltown in the mid-60s, Joe always figured he would become a teacher like his mother who taught for 37 years. But while in basic ROTC at Auburn University he learned that if he would continue in ROTC he would get $40 a month.
“And that sure beat working in a cotton mill in Tallassee,” he told me. While he got a degree in education, when he graduated he headed off to become a paratrooper and recalls, “I jumped out of the first airplane I ever flew in.”
Joe and I are good friends and he has often told me that he grew up in the best leadership lab available—the U.S. Army.
And it was because of his unique handle on what real leadership is all about that I sat down to talk to him recently.
In particular, I wanted his thoughts about leadership and what qualities of such we need in a new state school chief.
He was candid as I knew he would be. Among his thoughts:
“A great leader invests in their people and model leadership. Great leaders understand why people follow.
“People want a leader they trust, one who has compassion for their situation. Leaders bring stability to an organization and give hope that this is something better to come.”
So how does this apply to the current situation we face at the state department of education I wanted to know?
“Honestly, I see this department in disarray with a lack of internal communications, frustrated employees and little communications with local school systems. And definitely too many poor decisions in the last 18 months.
“So, to me, the top priority in a search for a new superintendent is finding a strong leader.”
Does he have anyone in mind?
“I wholeheartedly support Craig Pouncey, Jefferson County superintendent,” he said.
“We must restore confidence in public education. We must have a leader who those of us in local systems can count on to stand up and be counted when we are under attack like we have been the last few years.
“Just look at the A-F school report card and the legislation creating the Alabama Accountability Act as prime examples.
“Too many of our education ‘leaders’ have ducked and dodged when faced with tough decisions. Instead of drawing the line in the sand, they have given in to powerful legislators—at the expense of local schools and their students.
“I got a Purple Heart for service in Viet Nam. So, I know a little about what it means when you say someone will stay in the foxhole when bullets are flying.
“I think Craig Pouncey is this person.”
Given Joe’s record of service to both this country and to our schools, his perspective is insightful for sure.