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Hedgepeth bids farewell to FHS

Leader, professional, diplomat, brilliant, innovator and friend are some of the words faculty members used to describe Farragut High School Principal Ed Hedgepeth.

After 14 years of service at FHS and after briefly considering retirement, Hedgepeth is leaving the halls of FHS to accept a job in the Knox County School’s Central Office as director of secondary school instruction.

While he will no longer be the school’s on-site leader, Hedgepeth’s new position will keep him very involved in the education of FHS students as well as every high schooler in the county. Hedgepeth will work closely with the leadership of all county high schools.

“I will spread my allegiance among all the high schools, but the apple of my eye will always be Farragut,” Hedgepeth said.

Russ Oaks, the school system’s director of public affairs, said Hedgepeth is “highly qualified” and “brings a wealth of experience and knowledge.”

Oaks said Superintendent of Knox County Schools Charles Lindsey would first work from a roster of applicants to name Hedgepeth’s replacement. The choice will be made “the sooner the better,” he said, but stressed the importance of finding the right candidate.

Hedgepeth said he will open summer school as he has since 1985 and then according to Superintendent Lindsey, “slowly transition in” to his new position. Hedgepeth said his job will be much like what he has done at FHS for more than a decade. “What I did here, now I can do for everyone,” he said.

Hedgepeth said he hopes to teach young administrators that above everything else a principal’s job is to set the tone for instruction.

“There are hundreds of things that can draw you away from that,” he said. “But you’ve got to find some way to delegate managerial issues so you can spend time as instructional leader.”

Hedgepeth said having been a principal he “will always wear the hat of being their advocate.” No one can understand what it likes to be a principal, he said. “Only until you’ve been there.”

A native of North Carolina, Hedgepeth said he made his way “over the mountains to Tennessee” and is proud to be a University of Tennessee graduate. He knew he wanted to help young people, considering pediatrics and the medical profession like his father. But like his wife Sally who recently retired from Cedar Bluff Middle School, he chose education as his life work. Hedgepeth said he went into the high school level because he likes to see the “maturation process” of a high schooler. “You can talk to them. You can reason with them,” he said.

His first teaching job was at South High School where he taught math and coached football. He did the same at West High School for a year and then transferred to Bearden, also as teacher and coach. After only a year-and-a-half as assistant principal at Bearden, Hedgepeth accepted his first principalship. “Talk about on the job training,” he said. After 10 years at Bearden, Hedgepeth moved to FHS.

Hedgepeth’s new challenge was like none he’d faced. He was walking into a school with highly publicized discipline problems. But Hedgepeth said, “I never back down from a challenge. That’s why I came here.”

Sharon Koch, curriculum secretary, credits Hedgepeth’s ability to lead a school the size of FHS. “A school of this size takes a special person. He is our captain of the ship. He has a great crew underneath him, but he has to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

About supervision, Hedgepeth said he believed in “supervision by walking around.” He said one teacher who questioned how often he could get out into the school kept track of the amount of times he showed up in her classroom to observe. “It was 75 times in one year,” he said. In his first year, Hedgepeth also enforced his new “no hats” rule, a rule he was warned he could never enforce.

Mike Gilmore, this year’s senior class president, said members of the Student Government Association had the opportunity to voice student issues in roundtable lunch meetings with Hedgepeth. “He made an effort to be accessible,” he said. “He’s done a lot of good and made it better.”

English teacher Ken Stansberry remembers when Hedgepeth first arrived at FHS. “It was the most significant redefining of who we were,” he said. “He put everything under the magnifying glass.”

Hedgepeth wanted to get the community involved in the process of “redefining” FHS. Before school started, he arranged for community meetings and offered parents and students a chance to voice their concerns. He met with the PTSO. “I wanted everyone to meet me and hear about my vision,” he said. Hedgepeth said he made a list of those concerns and asked fellow FHS administrators to attend a retreat where they would “develop a gameplan.” School started just a few weeks later.

Hedgepeth said he had to establish a “certain amount of order” in the school but that he had the support of much of the student body. “Hats off to that first graduating class,” he said, “who embraced the new policies” and set an example for the rest of the school.

Stansberry said it was obvious that Hedgepeth knew where he wanted to take the school. “He knows how to take problems and break them down. He listens to all sides, talks to every faculty member, and doesn’t come in and commandeer. He’s an impressive leader,” he said.

Hedgepeth credits his success in part to others. “I’d like to thank the PTSO for their involvement and commitment and the many booster clubs and support groups.” Hedgepeth had some words of advice for parents of current and upcoming high schoolers. “Effective schools have parental involvement,” he said. Hedgepeth said too many parents think that once students reach high school, they no longer need to be a presence in the school. “Stay involved,” he said. “They need you more now.”

Hedgepeth thanked his “committed and professional faculty. They are the ones down in the trenches. They make the difference,” he said.

Donald Dodgen, physical education and wellness teacher and basketball coach, said it’s Hedgepeth’s high standards that pushes the faculty to be their best. “He expects you to teach,” he said. “This staff is great, but it’s his leadership that makes the difference.”

Hedgepeth acknowledged the town and Mayor Eddy Ford who he said have also been a constant support. “We are fortunate to live in a community that appreciates good education,” he said.

“We have warts and blemishes just like anywhere,” he said, “but overall when you stop and look and reflect, Farragut is extraordinary and needs to be appreciated by the community.”

For this education advocate and the community he’s touched, Hedgepeth wants to remind everyone he will still be involved in the lives of students. “I still feel like I can make a difference in the lives of young people,” he said.


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