‘More than a job’
Bill Hopkins reflects on decades–long career in Morgan County
June 30 will be a surreal day for Bill Hopkins Jr. After a career in Morgan County that spans more than three decades as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent, he’ll say goodbye and embark on a new journey in Tennessee.
The 53-year-old husband, father and grandfather last month accepted a job as the director of schools for Fayetteville City Schools in Fayetteville, Tenn. He will begin his job there July 1.
A 1985 graduate of Falkville High School, Hopkins said Morgan County will always be home.
“I’m 53 years old, and I’ve spent all but a few months of those 53 years right here in Morgan County,” he said.
His career began in 1990 at West Morgan High School, and throughout the next decade he had stints at the now–closed Ryan Junior High School, West Morgan High School and the Morgan County Learning Center before being elected superintendent.
The time he spent as the first principal at the Morgan County Learning Center, the county’s first alternative school, is “one of the things I’m most proud of,” Hopkins said.
“I have a very difficult background. I was a difficult child … I was a kid who stole and cheated,” he said. “In high school, playing football really helped me straighten my life out, but I know I was often very close to making mistakes that would have changed my entire life.”
Hopkins said his own past is what led him to the alternative school. He was able to design the program from the ground up.
“I was blessed to help students who had made some really bad choices,” he added. “What’s the difference between sitting here after a long career as the superintendent and sitting in a jail cell? I can assure you it’s a very fine line between those two outcomes.”
Hopkins said that thought alone was a humbling one.
“Every child you look at can be the next person who kills someone or could be the next educator who changes lives, and it’s a really slim line.”
After his time at the learning center in the early 2000s, Hopkins went back to West Morgan High School as its principal from 2005-11, at which time he said he felt led to run for superintendent of Morgan County Schools.
Winning a second term and then a third, Hopkins is the only superintendent in modern times to be elected for more than one term.
Hopkins, who will officially retire from Morgan County Schools at the end of June, said he wasn’t looking for another job when a friend told him about the opportunity in Tennessee.
A much smaller school system, Fayetteville City Schools will offer Hopkins the chance to scale back but still effect change in the lives of his students.
Morgan County Schools comprises 18 schools and 7,400 students; Fayetteville has about 1,400 with one high school, one middle school and one elementary school.
“I’m blessed with this opportunity to continue to do what I do here, just on a smaller scale,” he said. “That’s what attracted me to this job … to be able to go to a place where I could continue to make a difference but that allows me to get back to my roots, too.
“I consider myself very blessed that I’ve been able to be in Morgan County for this long and also that I was selected for this new challenge,” he added.
Hopkins was one of six final candidates to be considered for the job in Tennessee.
It hasn’t all been easy in Morgan County for Hopkins. “The first year was very difficult,” he said. “At the board meeting before I was sworn in, the board had to borrow money to make payroll. If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have had enough money to pay the teachers.”
While he led MCS through a tough first year of budget cuts and difficult decisions, Hopkins said he is proud the school system’s financial status is completely different than it was nine years ago.
“We sit here today with over three months in reserve,” Hopkins said. “That’s more than $20 million dollars sitting in the bank.” School systems are only required by the state to have one month in reserve.
Not only does MCS have a large nest egg, Hopkins said more than $90 million in capital improvements have been made since his time as superintendent. Some of those capital improvements include a brand–new central office and Priceville High School, a cafeteria at Union Hill and athletic facilities at Brewer and West Morgan high schools.
Hopkins and his family will move to Tennessee at the end of June. Hopkins has been married to his wife, Shannon, for 27 years. The couple have two children, a son-in-law and one grandchild.