ORANGE BEACH — Orange Beach City Schools officially became its own system on Friday, July 1.
The newly formed system begins its journey with Randy Wilkes as its first permanent superintendent.
“What a wonderful opportunity this has been,” Wilkes said. “You walk into a blank slate of sorts. There’s ideas, there’s a mission statement, there’s a mantra that the city has for expecting excellence. I’ve heard the desire to become an elite school system in the state and in the nation, and I agree with that. I want the very same thing.”
Wilkes comes on board with 33 years in education. He originally taught mathematics before transferring to Crenshaw County, Alabama, teaching applied physics. His career has led him to teach at the junior college level and high school level. He has served in every capacity, he said, including teaching, driving a school bus, working in lunchrooms and acting as technology coordinator, special education director and working in the child nutrition program.
He became principal at age 28 and continued in that capacity for seven years. He served as superintendent of Crenshaw County beginning in 2011. In 2014, he was named superintendent of Phenix City Schools.
“We took a system back in 2010 that had a 51% graduation rate and we moved it three consecutive years to 97% graduation rate,” Wilkes said. “We’ve had an amazing run in Phenix City schools. We created a whole STEAM culture, and I was very blessed to be part of that.”
Wilkes said every Phenix City school system student has access to engineering, robotics and digital media on a daily basis. Elementary students can go to the Smart Lab, one of which is located in every district elementary school, and the central high school now has 14 academies for career and technical education.
He left the district with every school STEAM-certified, the largest district in the United States to boast that accomplishment, he said.
Now he’s excited to bring his years of experience to Orange Beach.
“We want to lead in excellence,” Wilkes said. “I’ve always competed within myself, and I want to be the very best inward me as I can possibly be, but I am cognizant of the environment. People ask me why I want to be the best, and it’s for the children. I hope to have a granddaughter in this system very soon, and I want her and every other child in Orange Beach schools to be afforded the very best, so that in a world that is highly competitive that is going to offer them many different challenges, they will be able to not only compete, but excel.”
To achieve that end, Wilkes is excited to bring new innovations to Orange Beach schools.
“As soon as we get the doors open and get settled down, we’re already going to begin looking at how can we expand and partner with others to give our students an even greater variety of course offerings,” he said. “We’re doing a lot with dual enrollment, we’re excited about that, but there’s a whole career technical piece. I’m not talking about vocational training like it used to be, there’s a place to marry career technical education and engineering, coding and health occupations. So, there’s still a lot to do with curriculum and instruction as well as student services, human resources and so forth.”
First, though, comes safety. Wilkes said a pledge he gives to community members is to strive for a safe learning environment for students, a safe working environment for system employees and to make decisions that are fiscally sound.
“We’re going to make sure safety is a priority,” Wilkes said. “After safety, the focus is all on the child. In every decision that we make, we’re going to base our decisions on research, best practices and data – what does the data say we need to do, what works – and we’re going to look at it from every decision we make in central office to the decisions on instruction in the classroom. Then, of course, we’re going to do things that are fiscally sound. We’re not going to misuse anyone’s money.”
Another thing Wilkes looks forward to is working with the community. Upon his first interactions with the city school board and officials, Wilkes said he was impressed with the teamwork he saw. He’s looking forward to continuing that teamwork and expanding it.
“We’re only as good as each other,” Wilkes said. “The city council, mayor, the board of education, the employees of the city, the employees of the school system, the parents – we’re going to be successful when we work collectively to achieve, conquer, and move forward to whatever’s next. We’ve got to have those kinds of partnerships, and I’ve seen them here. We’re going to foster it and we’re going to grow it. We want parental involvement, we want stakeholder involvement, which parents are stakeholders, but also businesses and community members. We need volunteers, retirees, really it takes every person out of 8,000 to make this successful, and we invite everybody to participate.”
“You can either tell your story, or you can let somebody else take control and tell your story on their own,” he added. “I don’t want somebody else to tell our story. And it’s not going to be just a good story – it’s going to be a great story.”
The Orange Beach City Council voted March 15 to create a municipal school system and to separate city schools from the Baldwin County School System by July 1. Wilkes was hired by the Orange Beach Board of Education on Tuesday, June 7.