The new principal for Early College Academy of Columbus has been appointed.
Rothschild Leadership Academy principal Michael Forte will lead Early College next school year, replacing the retiring Susan Willard.
Superintendent David Lewis made the announcement during Monday night’s Muscogee County School Board meeting. He didn’t explain his decision then, but in an email Wednesday to the Ledger-Enquirer, he said, “After receiving a letter requesting that he be considered for transfer to Early College, I interviewed Dr. Forte for the position. He articulated a vision for the school that will complement and build upon the foundational work begun by Susan Willard. In addition, he has previous high school administrative experience and an affinity for first-generation college students that I believe will enable him to effectively lead the Early College community.”
Forte told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview Wednesday that, since learning Willard is retiring, “I’d been asking God to speak to me. I have a desire to work at the next level, at a place like Early College. So when it happened, I didn’t have much time to think about it.”
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Being the principal of Early College, Forte said, “would be an opportunity to help students realize their dream and possibly help first-generation college students gain credit or an associate’s degree or a professional certificate at Columbus State or Columbus Tech.”
Also making Early College a good fit, Forte said, is having demographics similar to Rothschild: predominantly black students from economically disadvantaged homes.
“I’m very comfortable and familiar with working for Title I students,” Forte said. “And what better calling is there than for an African-American male to assist students in a predominantly African-American school gain college credit? There’s just no greater calling.”
Forte has been an educator for 19 years, all in his hometown of Columbus. He taught ninth-grade civics at Kendrick High School from 1998-2000 and eighth-grade social studies at East Columbus Magnet Academy from 2000-05. He was an assistant principal at Shaw High School from 2005-11, principal of now-closed Marshall Middle School from 2011-13 and principal of Rothschild from 2013-17.
After graduating from Carver High School in 1984, Forte earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida A&M University in 1989. He served in the military, law enforcement and corrections before pursing his career in education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social science education from Columbus State University in 1998, a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2004, a specialist’s degree in educational leadership from Argosy University in 2007 and a doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy in 2009.
His goals at Early College, Forte said, will include: increase the enrollment, approximately 170 students in grades 9-12; expand the school to comprise grades 6-8; increase the student diversity by attracting more white students, which are 9 percent of the enrollment; possibly add Chattahoochee Valley Community College and Troy University-Phenix City as partners.
Forte, however, realizes, “I have big shoes to fill,” as he succeeds Willard, the founding principal of Early College, which was born as a magnet program at Kendrick in 2006 and became a stand-alone school in 2010.
Having taught with Willard at Kendrick, he said, “She’s not only a colleague but a friend. I have nothing but accolades and praise for her.”
So his leadership approach at Early College, he said, “will be listening and understanding. My job is to add and not detract from what’s already been built and to make sure I support those teachers and those students.”
Thinking about leaving Rothschild is “bittersweet,” Forte said, but he insists he has no regrets about his four years there.
“I left everything on the field,” he said. “This place has become a part of me, a very important part of my life. These kids mean a great deal to me, and these teachers and this community mean so much to me.”
This personnel move didn’t require the board to vote on it because it’s considered a transfer when an Muscogee County School District principal shifts to the same position at another school. Asked who will replace Forte at Rothschild, Lewis said, “That process is in progress and not yet completed.”
As of now, Lewis said, the only other current or anticipated MCSD principal vacancy is at Britt David Magnet Academy, where Clara Davis is retiring. Her replacement hasn’t been announced.