As graduation day approaches, Westside High School Principal Debbie Alexander hears her seniors ask if she plans on following them to college.
It’s a valid question because she has already followed more than half of the graduating class through the majority of their public school years.
Seven graduating seniors had Alexander as their principal at National Hills Elementary, Tutt Middle and all through Westside High. Another 82 attended Tutt and Westside with Alexander in charge.
“I never thought I’d be a part of their story for this long,” Alexander said.
Alexander became the National Hills principal in 2003, when Kelsha Grant, 18, was in third grade. She moved on to lead Tutt Middle in 2006, when her National Hills third-graders moved to sixth grade, and Westside in 2009, when her Tutt sixth-graders went to high school.
Grant said the group of students who learned under the same principal from third through 12th grades formed a bond with Alexander they believe they’ll never lose.
“Every time we leave, she leaves,” Grant said. “I have a really special relationship with her. Anything I needed I’d just go to her office. No matter what. To talk about grades or fashion, anything.”
Spending so many years with the same students has allowed Alexander to get a glimpse into their lives outside of classrooms. During lunchtime, she’d chat with students in the cafeteria, hearing about parents divorcing, friends dying, boyfriend or girlfriend problems, getting braces off or just the daily grumbles about grades.
They nodded to her friendliness this year by awarding Alexander the “most talkative” superlative award.
Hunter Reid, 17, who attended National Hills, Tutt and Westside, said he’d see Alexander at all the football games chatting with parents and talking to students like they were family.
As Reid moves on to Georgia Regents University, Grant heads to Kennesaw State University and their classmates join the military, workforce and college, Alexander will take a cue and move on, too.
In the fall she will step in as associate superintendent of instruction, where she will work in Superintendent Frank Roberson’s cabinet supervising curriculum for all schools and acting as the coordinator for middle schools.
She said the timing was right, especially after seeing her children off to bigger things.
“That’s why it’s so bittersweet,” Alexander said. “It’s like I’m moving on to a second career. And they are moving on. But I’m still going to look out for them.”