Jim Steele, the first Black superintendent of Douglas County Schools, died Tuesday.
Steele served as superintendent from 1989 to 1992. He was elected to the role when the position was still chosen by the voters in the county.
Steele started his career in education as a band teacher at R.L. Cousins in 1964 and moved to Douglasville from Pritchard, Alabama.
He later became the assistant principal at Stewart Middle School and then its principal before being elected superintendent.
Stewart stood at just 5-feet tall. But former school board member Jeff Morris, who first met Steele as a sixth-grader at Stewart, said he was a “giant of a man.”
“I am very saddened to hear about the death of Jim Steele,” Morris said. “Jim was a great man, educator, mentor, but mostly a great friend and ally. Mr. Steele was a tireless principal and took the time to learn every child’s name prior to the Christmas break. He made all the kids feel loved and we all loved him. Jim was small in physical stature but was a giant of a man.”
Current Douglas County Schools Superintendent Trent North said he was “saddened” to hear of Steele’s death.
“Mr. Steele was a passionate educator and leader in our school system,” North said. “We will always remember him for inspiring students to dream big and give nothing less than their best. As principal, and later as superintendent, he encouraged many students to pursue careers in education. Many of his former students are current teachers and leaders in the Douglas County School System. Mr. Steele leaves behind a powerful legacy in our community. His memory lives on in his community, his students, his colleagues, and myself. His impact will never be forgotten.”
As news spread of Steele’s death Tuesday on social media, many came to the Sentinel’s Facebook page to pay tribute.
Robert Collett said, “He was a great man! He knew most if not all the students by name and always shared his special hand shake.”
Julie Arnold Camp wrote: “He was the best principal I ever had. Great man!!! Big heart. You could tell you were loved by him and he loved his job. Hard to accept he’s gone.”
Debbie Haynes wrote that Steele “always thought about the custodians” and “always came and talked to us when he made his rounds at the schools. He will be missed. Prayers for his family.”
In 2015, Steele attended a ribbon-cutting for the Jim Steele Freshman Academy at Douglas County High School.
Douglas County Principal Andre Weaver said opening the building with Steele’s name on it was his first task as principal.
“As I listened to him speak, his words helped me to be student focused as a principal,” Weaver said. “I have tried to model his actions by knowing my students and creating a positive school culture here at DCHS. His legacy will live through me and I will push that on to my teachers and students.”
At the ribbon cutting in 2015 for the 62,000 square foot brick building, which reads “JIM STEELE FRESHMAN ACADEMY,” above its entrance, Steele spoke, telling those attending the ceremony that education, relationships and life are all about making everything personal.
“I want people to realize that everything needs to be personal when it comes to relationships,” Steele said in 2015. “Get to know the kids. Kids need to get to know their parents. Friends need to get to know their friends. ... I had a praying mom and dad, and the things that they taught me, books couldn’t have taught me.”