From now on when the school bell rings, Jeanna Mayhall won’t know what to do with herself. For the first time in almost 30 years, the retiring Hand-In-Hand Principal won’t be returning to the school campus at the break of dawn every week day. For Mayhall, who has been in the school environment her whole life, says “it will be hard to transition to the ‘normal’ world because my internal rhythm follows the rhythm of the school calendar.”
The beloved veteran educator who just completed her 29th year in education was sent off by an adoring group of family, friends and coworkers during a recent reception held in her honor. Mayhall received many gifts and was honored by coworkers who made signs and a slideshow, performed a humorous skit and entertained her with a song written just for her.
As a product of the Thomas County School System, Mayhall graduated as one of four valedictorians of the Central Class of 1984. She holds an Associate’s Degree from Thomas College where she attended on a full academic scholarship, and received her Bachelor Degree in Special Education from Valdosta State University. Mayhall also holds a Master’s Degree in Birth to 5 Education and a Specialist in Educational Leadership from Valdosta State.
Since beginning her career as a special education teacher, Mayhall has always had a special place in her heart for children with special needs.
“The reason I chose education for my career is the children,” Mayhall said. “I absolutely love kids and especially children from disadvantaged families and children with special needs. I have so many great stories to tell about children that I cannot even begin to name one.”
Hand-In-Hand first opened its doors on the former Magnolia campus in the Chappelle building. The school only had four classrooms, but more than doubled by the second year. By starting in that original building in 1993, Mayhall saw the program grow and develop even as the three-year old classroom serving students with special needs was transferred from Garrison-Pilcher Elementary School to the Hand-In-Hand Magnolia campus.
The first year in the new Hand-In-Hand Primary School building on the 84 bypass, Mayhall was named assistant principal under Sheila Bullington. She helped to transition the kindergarten staff from Garrison-Pilcher into the new building with the existing Pre-K program.
“When we relocated, we were all so very proud of our BIG new school,” Mayhall said. “I like to say that Hand-In-Hand started with very humble beginnings on the Magnolia Campus and then moved to a state-of-the-art facility designed for the specific developmental needs for three- to six-year old students.”
Mayhall was named principal in 2006. When she decided to take the career path of administration, her intent was to never leave the school level.
“I love children and needed to be around them,” Mayhall commented. “I felt that being present in the classrooms around the children kept me focused on what needed to be done to make Hand-In-Hand a better place to educate kids.”
Mayhall feels like one of her biggest accomplishments is that Hand-In-Hand has become a lighthouse for families of children with special needs.
She said, “Each and every time that we sought to improve a service for our children with special needs, our system supported us and found a way to make it happen. No other district in our area, or in the state that I know of, provides a reverse inclusion program for three-year olds with special needs like our program. We work hard to provide inclusion support in the regular classroom as much as possible for our Pre-K students. Our staff is well-trained in supporting all students. The biggest accomplishment is that we’ve developed a culture of acceptance of all students.”
When asked what her favorite thing was about being a principal, Mayhall had a hard time coming up with one simple answer.
“I absolutely love the daily excitement of staff and students entering the building each morning,” Mayhall said. “I love the look on a child’s face when he learns something new. I love the look on the teacher’s face when she sees a child ‘get it.’ I love the infectious laughter of the staff at Hand-In-Hand enjoying their jobs. We laugh a lot. The children are always saying something absolutely hilarious. I should’ve journaled daily and written a book.”
While Mayhall served as principal, Hand-In-Hand was recognized by Bright from the Start: Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning as a high quality program with the highest rating of three stars and is used often in examples of a “highly effective pre-k program.” Some of the other accomplishments during her tenure included Erin Wright being named Georgia’s Pre-K Teacher of the Year by The Georgia Association for the Education of Young Children, Susan Esra being named Early Interventionist of the Year by Georgia Association on Young Children, and Hand-In-Hand being named Pre-K Program of the Year.
Mayhall added, “I will miss school. There is nothing like the excitement of the first day and the last day of school. I will surely miss being around children every single day, and in my job, I have formed strong bonds with my staff. I will miss being their leader. It will be hard to let go.”
Traveling and spending quality time with her husband, Michial, who also retired from the Thomas County School System, are Mayhall’s plans for the future. With three grandchildren and two of them living in Michigan, Mayhall will stay busy visiting them. Her son, Cooper, is a senior who plays baseball at Kennesaw State University so she plans to be a baseball mom and see as many games as she can.