Abbott steps in to lead Maplesville into future

Published 2:15 pm Monday, February 5, 2024

By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

One of Maplesville’s very own has taken over the reins at Maplesville High School to lead the school into the coming years. Gina Abbott, former assistant principal at MHS, has moved over from her former role into the principal’s position after 23 years at the same school she graduated from.

When people think of Maplesville High School, the word family is thrown around a lot. Children’s parents went to MHS, their parents’ parents went to MHS, and the school stays close to their roots and to the people who have walked their hallways for years.

Abbott was no different, growing up in Maplesville and graduating high school there, just like her parents before her. She attended the University of Montevallo to pursue a Degree in Psychology, and she intended to get a doctoral degree in psychology to teach at the college level.

Abbott got married and after graduating started working with a group home in Jemison that took kids from the Department of Social Services, and she was the manager of the on-site school for the program.

“The students that we served were students who had been in trouble with police, and I just felt called during that time to get to the students before they became delinquent,” Abbott said. “In my life, there were two things I said I would never do — I would never be a teacher and I would never go to the University of Montevallo, but I did both.”

From there, Abbott decided to get her Master’s in Special Education at Auburn University at Montgomery. While getting her degree, she got a job working in social services at Vaughn Regional Medical Center, exposing her to child abuse and neglect, elder abuse and neglect, and she learned a lot about what all goes on in the world, and how the services she provided at the hospital helped people.

Abbott said she would take the first job she was offered after getting her master’s degree, and it was at Martin Middle School in Dallas County. The following year, former Maplesville Principal George Walker Jr. reached out to Abbott about a special education teacher position open at Maplesville. She applied, and returned home in 2001.

On Feb. 1, Walker stopped by for the first time to see Abbott in her new role as the Maplesville Principal, and to officially congratulate her and wish her the best as she guides MHS into the coming years. Abbott said “it meant a lot to get his blessing.”

Abbott spent eight years as a special education teacher after her initial hire at Maplesville, but after classrooms started coming together more, she wanted to go into regular education.

“When inclusion (between special and regular education) happened, and kids started going back into their regular classrooms, I just felt more like an aid managing all of the paperwork, and I did not get to serve the kids like I wanted to,” Abbott said.

She got her general education certification and moved over to be a third-grade teacher at Maplesville. Then, a position came open as an Instructional Coach at Maplesville, and Abbott knew she needed to take the opportunity to apply for the role.

“I knew that if I did not jump on that opportunity, and usually when that role gets filled, it stays full for a while and I felt like that was a passion I had,” Abbott said.

She got the position, and served the entire schools of Maplesville and Isabella, mainly working with kindergarten through third-grade students in English, language arts and social studies.

Abbott continued to rise up the ranks and applied to be the Lead Reading Specialist in the Chilton County Schools District for kindergarten through third-grade students and got the job, which got her into all the schools to help with training and education.

There was just one more level for her to ascend to, one she never had a thought about being in.

“I never really wanted to be an administrator,” Abbott said. “I did not get my admin degree to be a school administrator … I had no idea that the assistant principal job (at Maplesville) was going to come up, and it was just a surprise. It happened really fast, and I have always cared about our school and what happens to it. I felt like that is what I was called to do at that time.”

Abbott applied and got the job, and stayed in the role until the end of 2023 when John Howard stepped away as principal at MHS. When she found out Howard was leaving, there was not a lot of preparation for Abbott to step in to lead the school in the ensuing weeks. She took over after the students returned from Christmas break. She was left without a counselor after Maplesville’s stepped away before Christmas, and the school does not have a guidance counselor, leaving Abbott as the only car in the administrative parking lot on a daily basis.

Teachers and faculty at MHS set up a surprise celebration for Abbott shortly after returning from Christmas break to congratulate her on the new role. The celebration featured a full spread of food, cards from many of the MHS students and goodie baskets.

“I would say our whole school is like a team, because there is no way I could have come back on Jan. 2 and run this school by myself, if I truly were by myself,” Abbott said. “I never was (by myself) because the people behind the scenes like our faculty, staff, parents and students just know when you need something, or sense when they need to be something more for you in that moment. That has made the biggest impression on me.”

When the job came open, Abbott was concerned about nepotism laws having family at the school, and in prominent roles in administration at the school as well. Chilton County Schools, other teachers and administrators from across the county reached out to assure her she could throw her application into the bunch for the job without a problem.

Abbott said it was emotional to even be able to interview for the job because she could “be leading the school that is one of the most important things and influences this community has, and it has influenced all of us in some way, not just me personally, but my family, my parents and dare I say, my grandparents,” and now she is.

“It has been quite the journey, and nothing I have ever done has ever been part of the plan,” Abbott said. “I do go with the way God leads me, and I try to keep an open mind about what doors are opening, and if those doors are meant for me to walk through. I am always going to try to do my best, and I love the kids here, the school and we give a lot of time and thoughts to this building, and it feels like my home. I want to do this school justice and make everyone proud, including myself.”

Looking ahead, Abbott said her first priority is to continue creating a safe learning environment so learning can happen freely at MHS. Also, building good people in the students is important to her. Abbott said if nothing else, students who leave Maplesville will be respectful, know how to be respectful and be kind to others.

Abbott has plans for improvements around the MHS campus as well, such as renovating the auditorium and creating an outside classroom for the school to utilize.