By Keysha Drexel
As the man who is replacing the principal who served at Vestavia Hills High School for almost three decades, Wes Gordon said he knows he has big shoes to fill.
But the 42-year-old said he’s more excited than intimidated as he heads into his first year as the school’s new principal.
Gordon replaces Cas McWaters, who announced his retirement in February after nearly 30 years of service at Vestavia Hills High School.
“One of the challenges of leadership is balancing the tradition with innovation. I want to extend the tradition of excellence already established here by Cas McWaters and all the wonderful teachers that have been here for a long time,” he said. “At the same time, I want to inspire everyone to bring their best to the table and incorporate that into the fabric of the school.”
While his job title at the school is different, Gordon is not a completely new face at Vestavia Hills High School.
Most recently, he served as the K-12 director of curriculum and instruction at the Vestavia Hills Board of Education central office.
Before that, Gordon was hired by McWaters to teach AP calculus at the school.
“I’m excited about being back in the school,” he said. “I loved my job at the central office because it gave me a chance to get to know all the principals and teachers in the other seven Vestavia Hills schools, so I feel like now I am able to bring my passion for the whole school system to my job here at the high school.”
A native of Selma, Gordon earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Alabama but originally didn’t have his sights set on becoming an educator.
“Like all boys that are good at math and science, I thought I wanted to be an engineer,” Gordon said. “I followed that path and did all the things I was told I had to do to work in that field, but then I discovered that I hated it. I couldn’t imagine spending my life working as an engineer.”
So Gordon looked for other ways to use his math smarts.
“I starting looking at other options, and education seemed like a good choice. I started grad school and immediately fell in love with teaching, with being in the classroom with the kids,” he said.
Gordon earned a master’s degree in secondary education and started his first teaching job at Holt High School in Tuscaloosa.
“At that point, in my heart of hearts, I thought I would teach ninth-graders math for the rest of my career. But I soon learned that teaching ninth-graders is harder than you would imagine,” he said.
From there, he went on to teach at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and then in 2007 came to Vestavia Hills High School, where he taught math for three years.
“In the meantime, I earned my education specialist degree from UAB,” he said.
Then Gordon got the offer to come work in the school system’s central office as the director of curriculum and instruction.
“When I left the classroom to take the job in the central office, it made my heart sad a little to leave the kids,” he said. “That’s why I’m excited about being back in the school.”
As the new principal, Gordon said he wants to encourage teachers to bring their personalities to the table and capitalize on the unique gifts they each bring to the classroom.
“You have to magnify your personality–whether it’s your sternness, your humor or whatever–so that you can really connect with the kids. It’s about forming those one-on-one relationships with the students so that you can help them achieve their goals,” he said.
One goal Gordon has for the new school year is dispelling a myth he thinks exists about most high schools.
“You hear a lot that teachers in high schools teach content, not kids. Well, that’s not what we’re going to do here at Vestavia Hills High School,” he said.
Gordon said he hopes to inspire his staff and students to think about the big picture.
“I want people to realize that this year is going to be somebody’s ‘good old days,’ their big year at Vestavia Hills High School. This is what they will look back and remember, and we want it to be incredible,” he said.
Gordon is married and has 13-year-old twins who will be eighth-graders at Liberty Park Middle School when the new school year begins.
The family lives in Trussville, but Gordon said he doesn’t mind the daily commute. He officially began his job as the new principal at Vestavia Hills High School on July 1.
“The drive gives me time to unwind, clear my head and be ready to spend time with and focus on my family,” he said.
Gordon describes himself as an avid reader and said he likes to read the books his children are reading.
“I’ve been reading a lot of adolescent literature, but it’s a lot of fun to read it with my kids and then discuss it,” he said. “Right now we’re reading the ‘Sisters Grimm’ series together.”
The twins recently built a fire pit at the family’s home, and Gordon said they are looking forward to cooler nights this fall.
“The first time we used it, it was raining, but we still stood out there trying to roast our marshmallows. It will be really nice to use this fall. It’s going to be a great year,” he said.