Escambia Academy’s new headmaster has been on the job for just over two weeks and has already become convinced that the position and the school are just what he was looking for.
“This marks just a little over two weeks, and I think it’s going to work really well’ it’s just a good fit,” said Wade Heigle, a 25-year education veteran who took the school’s reins on Nov. 28. “I feel like it’s a good school, with a good tradition. It’s very similar to schools where I’ve been in the past, and the size of the school and the community are very similar. I love small-town schools; everybody knows everybody, and there’s a family feeling.”
Heigle (pronounced Hee-gul) said he and his wife Jodie, who have been married 10 years, are both partial to smaller communities. Atmore fits right in with that line of thinking, he added.
“My wife and I both grew up in the country,” he explained. “We’ve both worked in the big cities, but we really like the small-town atmosphere. Atmore is a good small town with a family environment, and we’re really excited about it.”
Heigle replaces former headmaster David Walker. He will continue to learn the EA ropes under Walker’s guidance through the rest of the 2016-17 school term.
“We’re working together right now, and he has been a great help,” said Heigle, who grew up in the Vicksburg, Miss. area. “He has a lot of experience and insight into this community and this school. EA also has a really good staff and really good teachers. I’m fortunate to be walking into a situation that is very stable and has good people.”
Walker, who has been the school’s headmaster since 2015, will return to the classroom to teach World Geography and Driver’s Education. He is a veteran of 45 years in the education field and earned a spot in the Alabama Independent School Association Hall of Fame in 2009 after a coaching career that includes 15 track and basketball state championships.
The basketball success probably is impressive to Heigle, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and his master’s degree from Delta State University.
“I grew up playing sports, and basketball is my love,” he said. “I planned to play as long as I could, then get into coaching. I ended up tearing up my knee in high school and couldn’t play in college.”
He said he had never heard of Escambia Academy until last year, when the Mississippi Independent Schools Association and AISA held a joint convention in Orange Beach.
“I met a lot of people from AISA at the convention, and that’s how I found out about the EA job when it came up,” he recalled.
Mike Campbell, who chairs the Escambia Academy Board of Directors, noted in a letter posted on the school’s Facebook page that Heigle “comes highly recommended, bringing new ideas for growing and improving EA.” Campbell cited the new headmaster’s “great enthusiasm for working with the parents and staff” and pointed out that Heigle “has dramatically improved the educational and financial health of each school he has overseen.”
Heigle said he had several ideas he planned to implement after he analyzed the school’s present standing and settled into his new job.
“My ideas are wide-ranging, to meet whatever needs to be done,” he said. “I don’t expect to make any wholesale changes right now. It’s hard to do that in the middle of a school year. My two main goals are to do a little more in the fundraising area to (a) improve our facilities and (b) improve the pay for our teachers. I’d like to get the (attendance) numbers up a little. We have really good numbers in the upper grades, but our lower grades are a little low.”
He pointed out that although he has never taught in Alabama before, the educational theories and the students are basically interchangeable.
“You take a kid from Atmore and swap him or her for a kid from Mendin (Louisiana), about the only difference is you have to swap the (University of Alabama) crimson for the purple and gold (LSU’s colors).”
He concluded by saying that his main ambition is to improve the personal standing of each student.
“I love watching kids get better,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s in the classroom or in athletics; I just love the look on a kid’s face when his or her confidence grows.”