Tucker retiring as DSES principal to become Wild Alabama executive director

Heather Tucker, right, is retiring as Double Springs Elementary School principal and has accepted the position of executive director of Wild Alabama, replacing Maggie Johnston, left, who is retiring.

DOUBLE SPRINGS    -  Major personnel changes are taking place for both Double Springs Elementary School and Wild Alabama.
Heather Tucker, who announced her retirement as DSES principal effective Aug. 1, is coming on board as the new executive director of Wild Alabama, replacing Maggie Johnston, who is retiring from that position.
The past five years, Tucker has been DSES principal, a position she will leave with bittersweet memories in order to take the new executive director’s position with Wild Alabama and create new memories, she said.
“God has opened a new opportunity again,” said Tucker, “so I’ve decided to retire and pursue other things.
“Bittersweet is the word I use to describe that,” Tucker added. “When God opens doors, there is always excitement for that, but I will miss the kids.”
Tucker continues to stay involved with the school’s summer program and will be around to help the person hired by the Winston County Board of Education as her replacement.
Tucker will miss the close interaction with students on a daily basis, as well as their hugs, when she retires in August, she admitted.
“That’s the favorite part of my morning, standing on the sidewalk, getting those hugs, and going down the halls during the day,” Tucker added. “That’s what  makes it all worth it in the end.”
Tucker will also miss the teachers with whom she has also worked  on a daily basis.
“They are not just the people I’ve worked with all these years. They become friends and family,” she said.
“Those are the two things that made this decision so hard,” Tucker admitted. “God has a plan, so here we are.”
While praying about her next stage of life, the executive director’s position for Wild Alabama became available, after Johnston announced she was retiring after long-time service with the organization and related endeavors.
A member of Wild Alabama reached out to Tucker to apply for the position when it became available, beginning what Tucker described as a rigorous process with over 60 applicants from across the nation.
Tucker--who had done some collaboration as principal with Camp McDowell (where Johnston had previously been director,) as well as with the Arley Women’s Club--was offered the position in late May, Tucker said.
Wild Alabama, a non-profit stewardship, advocacy and education organization, works to protect not only the state’s national forests but also wilderness areas, state parks and related lands, officials said.
Johnston has been executive director of Wild Alabama the past four years, after serving as the director over environmental programs at Camp McDowell for 17 years.
Before that, Johnston was a teacher 26 years for the Alabama School for the Deaf.
When the time arrived that Johnston felt the decision to retire as Wild Alabama executive director was right, she decided she would devote more time to doing volunteer work with the organization, she said.
The Wild Alabama board, comprised of 12 members, had a separate committee which accepted applications and narrowed down candidates, before making a recommendation to the actual Wild Alabama board for the decision on new executive director, Johnston said.
When considering the qualities and qualifications for her replacement, Johnston, who was not a board member, thought about Tucker.
“I am thrilled,” said Johnston about Tucker coming on board as her replacement. “I can’t imagine anybody better than Heather to take that position.
“Having somebody that really understands how precious that jewel is, the Sipsey Wilderness, and the Bankhead National Forest and has lived here, that is important,” Johnston continued.
As new executive director, Tucker will  help secure funding for the work and projects done by Wild Alabama, such as funding for Legacy Trails, where improvements are being made concerning erosion, as well as make trail improvements, Tucker explained.
Tucker will also oversee five full-time staff members as well as one part-time staff member and handle day-to-day operations, she noted.
Tucker believes her career in education has helped prepare her for the responsibilities for Wild Alabama.
“What I do in the background a lot, in my education job every day, is work with our community, work with our legislators, securing funding, securing support,” Tucker explained.
Tucker stated she will have big shoes to fill in replacing Johnston.
“She knows everybody,” Tucker said. “That’s our goal the next few weeks is make those connections across the state..It is funded by people who love and appreciate (the national forests) and the wild places of Alabama, so we want to connect with those people to continue that great work.
“For my family, this is a good decision,” Tucker continued. “My kids, this is their senior year.” Tucker was referring to her twins John and Maggie.
With the job I’ve had, I have been at virtually everything they do. It has afforded me that opportunity. That’s been a great benefit,” Tucker explained.
“My goal this year, is I will be there, but I will be very present, soaking in and enjoying every moment of that senior year,” Tucker added. “This (new) job will still allow me to be present and enjoy what they are doing, but just in a different capacity.”
Tucker has spent her entire 25-year education career at Winston County Schools, serving in a variety of roles starting in August, 1999, as gifted education and classroom teacher and county library media specialist, serving in Meek, Winston County High School, Addison High School and Double Springs Middle School.
Tucker then served as library media specialist   at Meek Elementary, followed by Meek Elementary principal.
As Tucker  completes her final weeks  in her career at Winston County Schools, she hopes for the continued success of the school’s programs and classes.
“I want Double Springs Elementary School to always thrive and be the very best, so I will be more than glad to help the next principal  to make sure they have all the information and transition of things as easy as possible,” Tucker said.
Current staff members at Wild Alabama include Janice Barrett, education and outreach coordinator; Lindsay Madison, stewardship coordinator; Kim Waites, wilderness stewardship coordinator; Morgan Wilson, Legacy Trails technician and Jonathan Kelly, outreach and stewardship coordinator.
Part-time staff member is Anne Bailey, office manager.



See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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