Claude Powell thought he was ready to retire a year ago.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that he wasn’t finished influencing young people.
So, when Cecil Strong left the McDuffie Achievement Center last year to become principal at Thomson High School, Powell came out of retirement to accept the vacated position.
“In my heart of hearts, I feel like I can still make a difference in a kid’s life,” he said.
Powell always wanted to work with young people. A desire to coach youth sports led him to pursue a career in teaching.
He said his own coaches had an influence on his life as a child, and as he grew he began to believe that if he became a coach, he could also influence someone’s life.
Powell grew up in Dublin, Ga., and was the first in his family to go to college in pursuit of this dream.
He came to Thomson as a teacher in 1971 and found the town a good fit for him and his family and decided to stay.
“Thomson’s a small enough town that you don’t know everybody, but you know almost everybody,” he said. “It’s in close proximity to Augusta, and there’s a lot of advantages to being part of McDuffie County.”
For one thing, there is only one high school. As an educator, Powell said he feels he has the chance to touch the lives of many children along their path to graduation. And one hometown high school creates a bond among alumni and community members that is lost in a larger city with multiple high schools.
“That’s important,” he said. “I think that’s a link that kind of ties everybody together.”
Powell spent 18 years in administration at Thomson-McDuffie Middle School, 10 of them as the school’s principal.
Being the principal at MAC is both challenging and rewarding.
“The mindset that you have to have to be principal here is you have to be extremely open-minded. The majority of these kids, the reason they’re here is because they made a mistake,” he said. “You can’t keep a kid down. You can’t beat a kid to death because they’ve made that mistake. You try to look at the positive side of them, try to build them back up and get them to where they’re able to stand on their own again and be transitioned back into the regular school setting.”
The value of MAC, which is two years old, lies not just in punitive issues but also in credit recovery.
Some students have no discipline issues at all but benefit from the school because they’ve gotten off track for graduation – perhaps even dropped out – but they have a place to go to help them earn their diploma. Smaller class sizes allow teachers to work more closely with the students for a greater chance of success.
Powell said 10 students graduated high school at the end of fall semester, which adds to the graduation rate for Thomson High School.
“We’re in line to have at least that many, if not more, at the end of this semester,” he said.
When he’s not working, Powell enjoys spending time with his wife and their two grandchildren.
He still loves watching local athletic events. He also enjoys hunting and fishing. He’s not ready to retire again any time soon.
“Some people know when it’s time (to retire),” he said. “I thought I knew when it was time, but not really. I’ll be honest with you, I feel like there’s a calling. I feel like I need to continue to do what I was called to do.”