Educator 'took the long way around'

Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Tim Parker, assistant principal at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School, dropped out of Richmond Academy, but now holds three college degrees.

A 14-foot fall through ceiling tiles while performing electrical work left Tim Parker sore, but it was that fall that woke him up.

"Living week to week sucks," he said.

But that's what Mr. Parker, 45, was left with after dropping out of the Academy of Richmond County.

His life then was a far cry from where he is today, serving as the assistant principal at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School, one of the top schools in Georgia and one that often garners national recognition for student achievement.

"I just didn't find school challenging," he recalled of his decision to quit. "I was a little bit of a rebel."

Always reading several grade levels ahead of his peers, he became bored and skipped school often. Mr. Parker dropped out and quickly earned his GED.

He then joined the Air Force as a crew chief, but said he "wasn't really cut out for the military life" and returned to civilian life within a couple of years.

Mr. Parker then ran through a number of jobs as a bouncer, in restaurants and finally as an electrician's assistant. It was working that last job where things turned around after falling through the ceiling.

"At 25, I just got really tired of it. I got really tired of not having any prospects for the future," he said. "That fall woke me up."

Taking the $138 in his pocket, he left Fayetteville, N.C., bound for Athens, Ga., where he enrolled at the University of Georgia.

Mr. Parker managed to get a place to stay by working on a house in exchange for the first month's rent and the security deposit.

But working two jobs for 70 hours a week proved too much and his grades dropped. After his first semester, his GPA was an anemic 0.87.

A year later, he transferred to what was then Augusta College and earned a degree in English. Teaching, though, wasn't on his mind.

Instead, he hoped to work for Savannah River Site as a technical writer. But because of a hiring freeze, he tried his hand as a substitute teacher and has been in education ever since, beginning his career at Glenn Hills High School.

Willie Ann Parker, his mother, said parents must support their children, let them make mistakes and be ready to take them back when they come home. Some of those mistakes resulted in broken bones for the young daredevil who enjoyed high adventure like his father.

"It was just breath-taking when he went back (to school)," she said. "Right now, he's our pride and joy."

Having lived a colorful life with a story for every occasion, Mr. Parker uses his experiences to relate to his students and guide them to the right path.

"I try to encourage them to stay in school because I know what it's like going to school unprepared," he said. "Whatever path you decide to take that is up to you, but you need to get the foundation."

No major company will hire you without a diploma, and there are no chances of working your way up to management, Mr. Parker said.

When students at A.R. Johnson talk of giving up, he gives them a "reality check," breaking down the numbers and showing how hard it is as a dropout.

"The kids know there is validity to what I'm saying because I've lived through it, I've experienced it," he said.

Jobe Parker said his son asked for very little, working his way through college on his own.

"He's come a long way. I'm proud of him," he said.

Mr. Parker said reading was his "one saving grace." Although he played hooky quite a bit, he also loved to read, something he credits for enabling him to bounce back in life.

His sister, Suzan Harvel, remembers him reading an entire set of encyclopedias at the age of 8. Evil Boll Weevil, as she called him growing up, was always an achiever.

"I was the older sister, and I was supposed to be smarter," Ms. Harvel said with a chuckle.

Mr. Parker is still continuing his education, now pursuing a doctorate.

"I'll tell this to anybody. It's never too late to go back," he said. "Even if it's just one class at a time."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

TIM PARKER AGE: 45 OCCUPATION: A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School assistant principal FAMILY: Married with one daughter EDUCATION: Bachelor's, master's and specialist degrees from Augusta State University. He is working on a doctorate from Georgia Southern University. QUOTE: "I definitely took the long way around."