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‘Charles in charge’

By MARK McGEE - mmcgee@t-g.com
Posted 6/10/23

A handwritten sign taped to the edge of his office door says, “Charles in charge.”

Charlie Pope, the newly named principal at Shelbyville Central High School, doesn’t know who …

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‘Charles in charge’


A handwritten sign taped to the edge of his office door says, “Charles in charge.”

Charlie Pope, the newly named principal at Shelbyville Central High School, doesn’t know who wrote and posted the sign. With the days since he was told of his hiring on June 1 going by in a whirlwind of meetings on various levels, he isn’t sure if he is in charge yet.

“It’s a thrill,” Pope said. “I am very humbled by the opportunity. I’m not sure if I can really articulate all of the emotions since that first day. I am extremely grateful. I am so excited to work with the people here. They are the best with not only their knowledge but their attitude toward helping kids.

“There is a lot of excitement because we are charged with impacting the lives of students. To be in a position to lead a school in the system is pretty exciting, but at the same time, you see the gravity of it. You could build a Mount Rushmore of all the people who have led this school.”

The nameplate on his desk says “principal,” but a closer look and a visitor can see “assistant” has been covered by blue tape. His shelves are filled with his personal effects. He attributes that to his wife, Cindy, who is a teacher in Bedford County. He says he couldn’t do anything without her help.

They have two daughters, Addison, a senior at Cascade High School, and Emma who will be a freshman at Cascade this fall.

“I had expressed my desire to be a school principal,” Pope said. “It was like when I was in coaching. I didn’t get into coaching to be a career assistant coach.

“When I got into school administration, I had no desire to be a career assistant principal. That’s not an egotistical or arrogant statement. It was just my desire to lead and help more and do more.”

He met with Tammy Garrett, Superintendent of Bedford County Schools, and expressed his desire to be a principal almost three years ago.

“She outlined for me a path,” Pope said. “I have tried to work really hard and learn to put myself in the best position that I could. I couldn’t control if, or when, I would get the opportunity to lead.

“When Mr. Michael Hickman resigned, I didn’t make it any secret to the faculty that I was going to apply. I sent in my paperwork to officially apply and went through the interview process like anybody else who applied.

His interview lasted approximately an hour and a half with Garrett, assistant superintendent Tim Harwell, and human resources director Neil Watson.

“Mr. Harwell left quite a legacy here,” Pope said. “He did a lot of good for a lot of people and was a tremendous leader.

“Mr. Watson was principal at Harris Middle School and Dr. Garrett was a principal in Murfreesboro City Schools. All three of those folks have a depth of knowledge about the position and what it entails. It was a pretty intense interview, but I left feeling like I had put myself in the best position I could possibly be in.”

Pope has paid his dues with 20 years of experience working in various schools in Bedford County. He credits Terry Looper, Ed Gray, and David Parker as primary mentors during his career.

He was a school counselor, head boys’ basketball coach, and assistant principal at Cascade High School where he worked for three years. He had been the assistant principal at Central since 2021.

Through those experiences, he has developed his philosophy of how to approach the job.

“It is a challenge,” Pope said. “Kids still want to be impacted. We are charged with doing that. They want to still have adults in their lives holding them accountable.

“They still want to be educated. We have a tremendous number of kids who want that. They are looking for an opportunity to improve and get better.”

He also has an extensive resume as a college coach with positions as a summer camp instructor at Lipscomb University and assistant coaching roles at UT-Southern, then Martin Methodist, and Cumberland University.

Pope admits that working in administration was not in his original plans. But James Claibourne, who was in human resources for the county at the time, told him he would one day follow that path.

“Being the son and grandson of preachers, you want to help people,” Pope said. “One of the things I want to do is to help the most people I can. You start to look around at how you can do that. And if you are in the school system this is one of the ways you can do that.

“We can provide discipline and structure and at the same time offer a world-class education. We just have to be committed and work together. I want us to be servant leaders. My first goal is to create an atmosphere where we are all serving others. It is going to be a fun time.”

Pope’s educational background includes an associate degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in human services from UT-Southern, formerly Martin Methodist. He also holds a master’s degree in school counseling from MTSU and an education specialist degree in school leadership from Tennessee Tech.

“I was taught at an early age that if somebody pays you two dollars, then you give them three dollars worth of work,” Pope said. “I try to live that.

“We are going to have a standard we operate under. We are not going to make everybody happy with the decisions we make, but those decisions will be made in the best interests of the students. We are going to always try to do what is right.”

Perhaps Garrett summed it up best when announcing Pope’s hiring.

“Mr. Pope has a long history of serving Bedford County students,” Garrett said. “As I spoke to teachers during the hiring process, there were two consistent themes regarding Mr. Pope – he excels at discipline and at building relationships with people. These are critical elements of being an effective leader and will serve SCHS well.”