NOTE: This article originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gwinnett News section on Aug. 11, 2006.
The first day of school dawned well before first light Thursday for the new superintendent of Buford City Schools.
Geye Hamby (pronounced GUY) had more on his agenda than usual. It wasn't just the first time he'd be top guy on opening day — for the past five years, he'd been assistant superintendent — it was his son Forbes' first day of kindergarten.
"He was ecstatic about his first day of school," said Hamby, 37, of his youngest, as he strode through the halls of Buford Elementary, passing out warm handshakes and bright welcomes.
So was he. Crisp and striking in a light gray suit, blue dotted tie and black dress shoes, the 6-foot-3 former principal greeted nearly everyone — teacher, maintenance worker, office staffer — by name. Yes, he's mandated clip-on name tags, Hamby said, so newcomers would feel welcome. But he prides himself on knowing everyone by sight.
He opened door after door, bedecked with butterflies, inflatable monkeys or giant ice cream cones, to get his face in every classroom. It makes the teachers feel good, he said, provides a clear presence to the students and gives him a mental picture of how full each room is.
"This is one of the best classes I've seen yet, Miss Clark," he said, popping into Amy Clark's first-grade room.
"One of the biggest challenges in elementary school," said the former high school football player, ducking under a low-hanging curtain of plastic fringe, "is bumping my head on all the decorations."
His enjoyment of the rituals of the new school year was as clear as the summer day. For three and a half hours, Hamby made the rounds of all four sunlit schools in the city's independent system to give face time to Buford's 2,541 students. His stride was so speedy that his assistant superintendent, Allison Miller, joked she needed to make two steps for every one of his.
Not that she minds. They're a formidable team. With daughter Hailey in fourth grade and his son in kindergarten, Hamby knows more of the younger students. Miller, a former middle school principal, knows more of the high-schoolers. They both motor through the hallways of Buford's four buildings, seemingly fueled by joy.
After a quick lunch of pizza and a salad at the high school, where his wife, Traci, is a guidance counselor, Hamby stopped by the front desk. One of the office staffers told him his son was surely going to be a politician, the way he talked about how excited he was to be starting real school. Hamby had been hearing about his son all morning.
"He never met a stranger," the staffer said.
Neither has his dad.