BONAIRE — A cancer diagnosis at the age of 20 pushed outgoing Bonaire Elementary School principal Eric Payne to pursue a career in education.
During time between medical treatments, Payne, now 39, was asked to work with the sixth-grade youth group at Trinity United Methodist Church in Warner Robins. After working with and leading them, he decided to go to college to become a teacher, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern University, master’s and specialist’s degrees from Georgia College & State University, and in 2008, a doctorate from Argosy University.
“God has a plan. He didn’t give me cancer; he allowed me to have it. It brought me to where I am today,” Payne said.
Payne began teaching in his native Houston County and eventually became the assistant principal at Bonaire Elementary for a year and its principal for eight.
Now, he is preparing to take on the role of system assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, effective July 1.
Payne, who said he didn’t enjoy school while growing up, said he is looking forward to continuing to affect students, both personally and academically.
“There’s a certain expectation of high achievement continuing on the success we have, and we build upon it — it’s the Houston County way,” he said.
Payne has been juggling both roles since the school board promoted him to his central office position this month. However, Payne said it was imperative he not leave Bonaire Elementary before the end of the school year.
“This has been my home for the last nine years. I don’t want to not finish the job here,” he said.
Earlier in the school year, Bonaire Elementary was recognized as a 2009 Georgia School of Excellence, with 98 percent of students there meeting or exceeding standards on state assessments.
While Payne was recognized for the achievement, he said the students’ success is attributable to parents, staff and the Bonaire community at large.
“Everyone takes ownership in making sure the school is a school of excellence,” he said.
Payne hopes his experience as a principal will help him build bridges between the central office and individual school leaders.
“We’ve already worked together, worked real close. ... I have a relationship with the principals, all of them,” he said.
“It opens the lines of communication already there in place.”
He is also looking forward to working with the staff in the teaching and learning department this summer.
“Each subject has leaders. I’m able to learn from them as well. The experience is already in place walking in,” he said.
Payne said the massive budget cuts to the school system have posed a challenge, but the system has done “a lot more with a lot less.”
“We’re not allowing excuses,” he said. “There’s no option but to move forward, even when times are tough.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.