By William C. Singleton III
Vestavia Hills School Superintendent Jamie Blair plans to retire next year and enjoy a life on the farm.
Blair, who has served the Vestavia Hills school system as superintendent since March 2000, submitted his letter of resignation at a recent school board meeting. His official retirement date is Oct. 1, 2015.
“I’ve served 38 years in education, and I think it’s somebody else’s turn,” Blair said.
The board has started a search for his replacement.
“I wanted to give the board plenty of time to post the position, advertise it and find a good candidate as well as give the new candidate a transition period while I’m still on board,” he said.
Under Blair’s leadership, the Vestavia Hills school system continued its rise as one of the state’s best and one of the nation’s top education districts. Its high school has consistently ranked among the nation’s best, according to a U.S. News and World Report study on America’s top high schools.
The school system not only sees 98 percent of its seniors go on to college but sees its seniors receive millions of dollars in scholarships each year. Vestavia Hills was one of the first area systems to integrate technology in its classrooms, and Blair was named Alabama Superintendent of the Year in 2010.
But Blair said he merely stepped into a great situation.
“Vestavia was a great school system long before I got here. I just hoped that I could continue that reputation and help it grow,” he said. “I’ve always said you have to have great students, great teachers and great parents, and I had all three.”
Blair lists the accomplishments of Vestavia Hills students as the thing he’s most proud of. He also cited the system receiving “unitary” status and the recent favorable property tax renewal vote as accomplishments he’s proud of.
In 2007, a federal judge removed the Vestavia Hills school system from a longstanding desegregation order which forced the school district to bus in black students from the Oxmoor Valley area. School officials reached a settlement with Oxmoor Valley parents which allowed their children and siblings to complete their education in the Vestavia Hills school system, among other concessions. The system was then awarded “unitary” status. Unitary status is given a school system when a court deems it has eliminated vestiges of segregation.
Blair also referenced the recent 10.5 mill property tax renewal, which Vestavia residents on March 11 supported 1,715 to 163. The tax, which was set to expire in 2017, will remain in place indefinitely. The school system generates about $6.3 million annually from the 10.5 mill property tax. The system also receives other property taxes for education.
“It just shows how this community values a good education,” Blair said. “Those who have graduated from our school system or had their children graduate or their grandchildren understand this school system is the crown jewel of the community, and if this school system doesn’t thrive you’re not going to get as many people moving in here as normally would.”
Blair’s son, Davis, has also benefited from a Vestavia Hills education. He is expected to graduate from the University of Alabama in the summer and plans to enroll in graduate school at UA in the fall, Blair said.
“He had a great experience and was able to attend a great elementary school, a great middle school and a great high school. It prepared him so well for college life,” he said. “It has been like a blink of an eye because it seems like yesterday when we were over at (Vestavia Elementary School) West enrolling Davis as a third-grader.”
Blair is taking advantage of the state’s DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program) as he exits. DROP allows state employees who are at least 55 years of age and have 25 years of service to continue working while drawing retirement pay for up to five years. Upon retirement, the employee can withdraw a lump sum from a special account that earned guaranteed interest.
“When I entered DROP, that (retirement) started becoming a part of my thinking,” he said. “I’m also ready to do something else.”
That something else is to retire to a small farm he and his wife purchased near Tuscaloosa, he said.
“It’s a deer hunting farm, lots of trees and lots of woods,” he said. “We’ve already built a barn, and I bought me a bunch of toys like tractors and plows. After I retire, we’re going to build a home there, and that’s where we’re going to live.”