In a move that feels like a homecoming, a Coffee County Central High School administrator took the leap from assistant principal and instructional coordinator to become Coffee County School’s Director of Attendance.
Dr. Keith Cornelius began teaching in 1990 in Duval County in Florida. He taught there for a year before briefly leaving education. He came back to the career in 1999 as a teacher in Rutherford County, where he taught math until 2011. The Tullahoma native worked in the state Department of Education for one year before coming home to Coffee County.
“When the opportunity comes knocking, you got the chance to come back,” he said. “To me, this always felt like home. You could not do better than Coffee County schools. When I was working at the state, I could see how Coffee County excels.”
Cornelius applied for the position and, on Dec. 14, was lucky enough to accept it. Former Director of Attendance Sharon Spears retired Dec. 31. While in the high school, he worked closely with Spears and became well-versed with the administration work needed for the position.
“She’s been a great help too,” Cornelius said in regards to Spears. “She’s irreplaceable. Hopefully I do the best that I can do for the students. That’s my goal.”
His first month on the job has gone smoothly – there have been no surprises and he has been very careful to follow all enrollment guidelines by the state. He oversees the county’s homeschool program, works on the student information database and goes over and sends the Average Daily Member report to state funding programs.
Although he isn’t working directly in the school anymore and left classroom instruction behind him, Cornelius still gets to impact students’ lives. He works closely with all of the schools’ principals and students who need the extra push and help to eliminate the barriers that keep them from staying in school, which he has been enjoying.
“I always want everyone to know in the entire system and community I’m here to help your student,” Cornelius said. “I want them in school, obviously, to stay in school and if something is preventing them from going to school, we address that.”
He explained it isn’t just one person on all of this and that it takes a team to ensure student success. It isn’t punitive work either – it’s a team effort to give the student and their family access to resources to ensure they have a better tomorrow.
“In this system, we all help each other and this makes the system successful,” he added.
The biggest change he’s learning to face is thinking about the entire district’s wellbeing and not just the future of CHS. It’s a change he is enjoying, although he does miss seeing everyone at CHS on a daily basis.
“They’re wonderful,” he said about his CHS coworkers. “I’d put them up against anybody.”
He also spoke highly of Dr. Joey Vaughn, Coffee County School’s deputy director of schools. Vaughn acted as a mentor to Cornelius and always taught him to be a better administrator, he explained.
“Anything I mess up on, it’s his fault,” Cornelius said in jest.
He also thanked Director of Schools LaDonna McFall for being supportive of her administrative team and being open when he seeks advice and support.