VIDEO: DeKalb BOE honors Mary Jo Chandler for 51 years of service

VIDEO: DeKalb BOE honors Mary Jo Chandler for 51 years of service

PHOTO: Alabama Education Association (AEA) Executive Director Darryl Sinkfield recognizing Mary Jo Chandler for her service. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor

RAINSVILLE, Ala. — (Video and Agenda at the Bottom) During the workshop portion of last night's board meeting, the DeKalb County Board of Education and Alabama Education Association (AEA) surprised Bus Driver and Educational Service Professional Organization (ESPO) Director Mary Jo Chandler with recognition for 51 years of service.

"I went today to fill out my paperwork, and ya'll don't have any record of me being hired," Chandler said to laughs from the board and audience.

"I was told you can't retire if you didn't never start work," she said.

"They didn't keep paperwork back then," said Board member Mark Richards with a laugh.

"You just started work on a handshake," added Williams.

Chandler started her career with DeKalb County Schools at Log Cabin School, which was once between Collinsville and Fort Payne on County Road 51. She worked in the lunchroom for the first two years, until becoming a bus driver.

The superintendent and board members expressed their appreciation for Chandler's service:

Superintendent Dr. Jason Barnett said of Chandler, "Mary Jo, you are going to be missed. We certainly do appreciate the years of service and commitment to our schools. There is a large body of people here in Rainsville, Alabama and the surrounding community that you impact their lives. Took them to school, took them home from school, help feed them and took care of them at times."

"Your length of service, 50 years plus years, that's uncanny. And it goes to show, because you've been losing money for some time. It's a testament that it wasn't about the money. It was a real passion and a real love for you to do that. We appreciate your service to the students, the faculty, and staff."

Board Chairman Jeff Williams said: "50 years, that's really incredible, and that's impressive. I want to say thank you for your valuable service to DeKalb County. For representing your students well; you represent them with their best interest in mind. That doesn't always mean that it's pleasant; that you get to do things that are easy. So, I appreciate that and you bringing your concerns to us, and giving us the opportunity to work with you, and I wish you well. I hope you enjoy your retirement. Thank you."

Board member Robert Elliot said: "I do want to say, from the time I've been here, you have such a passion for what you do. You can see it when you come in here before us and talking with you. It's going to be hard to replace that. I recently retired from public work, so I wish you the best. I think you are going to love it. It's a little scary to start with, but I think you are going to be truly glad you did. I want to thank you for all the work you've did. We really appreciate it."

Board member Matt Sharp: "Mr. Williams said exactly what my thoughts are. You being here for 50 plus years is very, very impressive, in no matter what you are doing. The passion that you have in your position, and I know a lot of times you've came to the board and spoke to things from other people's points of view, and not necessarily your own sometimes. I really do appreciate your faithfulness in that area. And the impact on the people's lives that you've touched. Not only students, but community members. I've always known you to be very optimistic and positive for things that you've wanted to do for our school system. I wish you the very best of luck. I'm sure you won't retire; you'll do other things. So, I wish you the best of luck."

Board member Mark Richards: "Not only did she drive a bus for years, but in the community she lives she's a hard worker on the fire department; anybody that needed help she would help them. I remember the first time I ran we had a political forum at Plainview school. We were standing around talking, and somebody said, 'right over there is Mary Jo Chandler. She's very tough to deal with,'" Williams said, to laughter of those in attendance. "I've been here over 15 years on the board, and I've known she's a person just like we are. It's not going to be the same without you, and I wish you the best."

Board Vice Chairman Randy Peppers: "I just got to know you for a few years now, but I was just thinking about the countless number of kids and lives you've been able to affect over 50 years. Do you have any idea how many different kids you've carried on a school bus and carried places? It's a lot.  It's a testament to your life and your dedication to the school system."

"When I first started out, I was driving a 62 passenger bus, and I was hauling 126 kids," said Chandler. "We'd make a stop and they'd get off till the right ones that lived there got off and the others would get back on. Of course now I'm driving a 72 passenger bus with 50 kids."

"What was your pay when you first started?" Elliot asked

"$89 a month, and absolutely no benefits," replied, Chandler, to laughter from the crowd.

Chandler with the DeKalb Co. Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Jason Barnett. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)

AEA UniServe Director for DeKalb and Jackson Counties, Sheila Cornelison, explained that while she had been in her own role for 12 years, Mary Jo has been important to her career.

"I would have never been able to do my job if it hadn't been for the help of Mrs. Chandler. I know that I've been in education for 26 years, and I can't imagine 51 years. The roses are from us, and roses symbolize beauty. And Mary Jo has a beautiful spirit. I know she's going to continue helping people. I know she won't quit with that, but wanted to recognize her," said Cornelison.

Chandler had also served as an officer on the ESPO Board since the organization was formed in 1976.

Darryl Sinkfield, Assistant Executive Director of the Alabama Education Association, made the trip up to DeKalb County to honor Chandler.

"To the board, to friends and family, to Sheila Cornelison, and to our champion, Mrs. Chandler," began Sinkfield. "I was here last year for a meeting, when Sheila told me that Mrs. Chandler had 50 years of service. And if you guys know Sheila like I know her, you know her wheels started to turn."

"We came together and she said she wanted to do something for this amazing woman. I said, 'Sheila, what ever you want to do for Mrs. Chandler, you can do it. I'm going to support you 100 percent. It's nothing for me to drive from Montgomery to say, 'thank you' for 51 years of service," said Sinkfield.

"To the parents, to the students, to the board, I look around and there is not that many amazing people like you guys have here. We want to cherish you. We want to give you your roses while you can smell them. And this is just a small token, for all the appreciation for the work you've done over so many years," he said.

"I was only one year old when you started driving," Sinkfield said to laughter from the audience.

"From the bottom of my heart, we want to present you this award, for appreciation of 50 years of outstanding service to the DeKalb County Board of Education and the DeKalb Education Support Professionals, presented this day, April 19, 2018," he stated.

"Also we want to present you with a certificate as well, from AEA, of our appreciation for the outstanding service that you've provided and the leadership that you've shown over 51 years. I just want to say thank you, and God bless you," concluded Sinkfield.

AEA provided refreshments for the board, audience, and Chandler's friends and family.

After the reception, Chandler gave a statement on her retirement: "It's scary, but I'm looking forward to it. I see all these kids now, and I have no idea who they are and they are now grown."

"I've helped them comb their hair when they didn't have anyone to, bought them biscuits when they didn't have anything to eat. It's changed a lot tremendously since I started. It's changed for the better I think," said Chandler.

Video of the Chandler being honored. (Agenda Below the videos):

Video of the Regular Meeting:  

Agenda, April 19, 2018. 

School Financial Statements/General Fund Bank Reconciliation/Bills and Accounts

  • School financial statements/General Fund Bank Reconciliation
  • Bills and Accounts

Early Graduate 

  • The board accepted the early graduation of Hannah Slaton of Geraldine High School. (Hannah addresses the board and audience during the meeting portion)
The board approved the early graduation of Hannah Slaton of Geraldine. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)


  • Pat Gregory, CNP Worker, Valley Head High School


  • Dennis Gardner, Math Teacher, Ider High School, Retirement
  • Sherri Blevins, Elementary Teacher, Plainview High School, Retirement
  • Steve Bowman, Elementary Teacher, Plainview High School, Retirement
  • Trilla Norris, Elementary Teacher, Geraldine High School, Retirement
  • Matt Stephens, Band Director, Plainview High School, Retirement
  • Venita Scott, Elementary Teacher, Crossville Elementary School, Retirement
  • Russell Green, Physical Education/Drivers Education Teacher, Sylvania High School, Retirement
  • Danny Smith, Elementary P.E. Teacher, Crossville Elementary School, Retirement
  • Susan Butler, CNP worker, Crossville Middle School, Resignation
  • Cristie Brothers, Head Volleyball (Coaching Duties Only), Geraldine High School, Resignation
  • Mark Quarles, Head Baseball (Coaching Duties Only) Crossville High School, Resignation
  • Justin Croley, JV Baseball and Assistant Varsity Baseball Coach (Coaching Duties Only) Crossville High School, Resignation
  • Holly Currie, Head Girls Basketball (Coaching Duties Only), Sylvania High School, Resignation
  • Russell Higdon, Head Boys Basketball (Coaching Duties Only), Ider High School

Leave of Absence: 

  • Marcella Brown, Itinerant Special Education Paraprofessional, Ider Special Services Center


  • Jodi Buttram from Elementary Teacher to 1/2 Assistant Principal/ 1/2 Intervention Teacher at Sylvania High School.


  • Support 
    • Chris King, Shop Foreman/Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor, Transportation Department
    • Jennifer Willoughby, Assistant Secretary, Geraldine High School
  • Contracts 
    • Donna Sue Broyles, Homebound, IDEA B
    • Belinda Jolley, Homebound, Local
    • Laura Smith, Homebound, Local
    • Alicia Bryant, 21st Century Moon Lake Aide, Title 4
    • Smith Nursery, LLC, 21st Century Moon STEAM Instructor, Title 4
    • Smith Nursery, LLC, 21st Century Moon Lake Plant Instructor, Title 4
    • Chassidy Griggs, 21st Century Collinsville Teacher, Title 4
    • Amend contracts for Amy Dyar, Scott Timmons, Belinda Jolley, and Tracy Tidmore to increase $1,000.00 each due to increase of DeKalb Virtual School enrollment
    • Megan Gilbert, Collinsville Teacher, Local
    • Robert Richey, OCI Teacher at DeKalb Virtual Academy
    • Sinh Nguyen, Math Teacher, Local
  • Superintendent's Recommendations, Comments, and Reports
    • 2018 Policy Committee Recommendations (Lay on the Table for 30 days) See beginning of the workshop video for Brian Thomas' explanations on the policy changes. 
    • School Safety Improvements
  • Date of Next Meeting: May 17, 2018.