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A lasting legacy: Jerome Ward retires from Hartselle High after 20-year career  

By Caleb Suggs 

Photos by Rachel Howard and contributed  

When this past academic year came to a close, the commencement ceremony had been held and the hallways were void of echoing voices, Dr. Jerome Ward turned in his school keys, took one look around Hartselle High School and walked out, leaving behind a career that spanned more than two decades educating students of Hartselle City Schools. Ward officially retired from his long-held post June 1.  

“At this point it’s still fresh so I don’t think it’s really settled in yet,” Ward said. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop teaching. That love for learning will always be there.”  

A true calling  

His storied career in the classroom was much more than just a job, it has been more of a calling for the husband and father of four.  

“When I was in eighth grade at Hartselle, we did a unit on careers and I decided to research education,” Ward said. “It was then I heard the Lord speak to my heart and I knew that was the career path I needed to be on.”  

Never wavering from that path, Ward studied pursued degrees in education at Athens State, UNA and Samford.  Along the way he met many educators who would impact his future in many ways, but the biggest came from a teacher whose class he didn’t even attend.  

“I think we all have those teachers that impact our lives and mine is certainly a long list. But I think the one that affected me the most was Dexter Greenhaw,” Ward said. “He was the band director at Hartselle after I graduated and he reached out to me to see if I wanted to help. We became very close; he was almost like a second dad to me. He taught me how important building relationships is, as well as little things that I would incorporate into my teaching and my personal life.”  

Relationships would become an even bigger aspect in Ward’s teaching after, at just 30 years of age, he spent two years as a college professor at Wallace State.  

“Teaching at a college was almost like a business, and it made me realize how important relationships are,” Ward said. “I greatly missed that day-to-day interaction, that connection I had with my students.”  

Once back at Hartselle, relationships became an even bigger piece of Ward’s methods.  

“One student that stands out to me was Janson Frazier. On the first day he smarted off to me so I pulled him aside, called his dad who I knew and told him that wasn’t going to fly,” Ward said. “I gained Janson’s respect and after that we had a great relationship. Unfortunately, he passed away in an accident serving our community as a firefighter. But he will always be special to me, and the same goes for all the other relationships I’ve built.”  

An intimidating friend  

When it came to his class, Ward expected nothing but the best.  

“I was never going to give an A grade for C work,” he said.  

His class grew a reputation for the high standards it had, which simultaneously turned Ward into an intimidating figure for some.  

“I don’t think I was too aware of that,” Ward joked. “I always took the approach of saying what you mean and meaning what you will say. I held the bar high and pushed my students to reach it each year.”  

Ward’s style of teaching endured him to many students. It has become commonplace for former students to reflect on Ward as one of their favorite teachers and his class as tremendous preparation for the next level of education.  

“The best paycheck you can have as a teacher is when a student comes back and says thank you,” Ward said. “I have stacks of letters and emails from teachers who thanked me for pushing them to be the best. As a teacher, knowing you made a difference, that’s what it’s all about.”  

A new chapter  

As the old saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. Ward has always been heavily involved in church, mostly as a music minister. Recently, however, he took an even bigger step, becoming the pastor of Destiny Church in Falkville.  

“Being a pastor is definitely a much different job than anything I’ve done before, but I felt like it was what the Lord had called me to do,” Ward said. “He’s really been blessing me too, we’ve had great numbers and have a lot of good stuff going on.”  

Ward said his career in teaching has prepared him for this new task. 

“If the Lord had called me at a young age to do this, I probably would have balked at it,” he said. “But I think he knew I needed to go through everything I did to get to this point.”  

And while he may be retired now as an educator, Ward says the teaching won’t stop.  

“I’m still teaching at a different level,” he said. “Teaching and preaching His word and hopefully helping to lead others to the Lord.”  

And after the feeling of retirement has settled in, Ward hopes he will be remembered fondly at Hartselle.  

“My hope is that I will be remembered as someone that was tough but fair. Someone who treated his students with respect, and pushed them to realize they were capable of achieving anything they set their mind to.” 

Ward and his wife Tracy have been married for __ years. The couple have four children: Aden, Ty, Eli and Dixie Anne.