Leading by Example

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H.E. “Doc” Holliday extends educational legacy to youth character development  …

Georgia (Feb 18, 2016)

H.E. “Doc” Holliday extends educational legacy to youth character development


KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb. 18, 2016) — In a scenario reminiscent of actor Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of crusading New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark in the movie “Lean on Me,” one of Earl “Doc” Holliday’s first tasks as Cobb County’s first black high school principal was to go after the gangs that prevented students from moving freely down certain hallways at Wheeler High School. 

It was 1992, and the racial demographics of the East Cobb high school were shifting, with about 70 percent of its students white and 30 percent black or Latino. In addition to the challenges of growing diversity, Holliday discovered that gangs like the “Bloods,” “Crips,” “Folks” and “Vice Lords” posed a threat to school security and performance.

While Holliday had not seen the movie, he could have written the script. Like Joe Clark’s iconic character, Holliday, a Kennesaw State associate professor emeritus of educational leadership, pulled together his assistant principals to begin an investigation of the problem and start the process of gaining control of the hallways. But unlike Clark’s rants and intimidation, Holliday’s approach reflected his style of visionary leadership and the confidence of experience.  

“Do we have folders on these students,” Holliday recalled asking, charging his assistants to get him the folders immediately and set up a meeting. “I want to give them a new idea of how we’re going to do business.”

Holliday said he read each folder and addressed each of the 25 assembled gang members individually, pointing out their indiscretions. He also stressed that he was an experienced principal with some new ideas to improve the school, and that gangs were not going to be tolerated at Wheeler.  

“I said, ‘All I ask is that you give me a chance to implement some programs that will benefit you and all the students. I’m going to stand at this door, and if you’re going to work with me, I just want you to shake my hand as you leave.’” Only two failed to do so. “I want them out of here by tomorrow,” he told his assistants. “And they were gone. Then the word was out.”

That was the start of Holliday’s historic tenure as a Cobb principal, which ended in 2005, when he joined Kennesaw State’s faculty. But his greatest accomplishment there, he said, was boosting students’ motivation to learn in the face of low teacher expectations, teachers’ lack of experience working with diverse and high-risk students and a great deal of scrutiny from the community and school board.  

“In the first three years, we increased students’ SAT scores 43 points across the board,” he said. “I kept stressing academic excellence and wouldn’t let teachers reduce their expectations.”

Holliday’s more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, system administrator and teacher educator began in Ohio, where he earned a Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership from Ohio State University and taught in the Oberlin City Schools. He has worked in rural and urban school settings, gaining a reputation as a “change agent.” He exemplified that role in Georgia, where in addition to his success at Wheeler, he also served as principal at Cobb’s Campbell Middle School and assistant principal of Campbell High School, as well as the system’s assistant superintendant for school improvement. He also served as chief of staff for Atlanta Public Schools. In addition to Kennesaw State, Holliday taught educators at Central Michigan University. More than 50 of his students have gone on to become successful principals and university leaders.

Considered a leader in developing innovative, data-driven programs for high-risk, under-performing schools with diverse populations, Holliday is translating that experience into his newest venture, a language arts-based character development initiative call “Core Values Worth Knowing,” which he conducts through his nonprofit organization, Boys Transitioning: The 21st Century Male. 

The project, launched in 2015 at Cobb County’s Harmony-Leland Elementary, Floyd Middle and Osborne High schools, combines creative writing, critical thinking and values clarification. It engages students and parents in learning and internalizing 30 core values, including the importance of education, family, friends, work ethic, savings, and respect for women, adults and authority; belonging to the community and participating in positive activities; being physically fit, well-read, self disciplined and spiritually grounded; having discipline, personal goals, vision and balance and embracing technology. Students read and discuss each of the values then read stories and watch videos where the values are applied in real-world situations. They discuss the core values with teachers, parents and project leader. They work directly with a parent on a selected value, and then write their interpretations of why they think it’s important. The writings are published, and parents and families attend book-signing events for the now-published young authors.    

Holliday said he believes character development is an essential, though sadly missing, component of public education today.

“It has become increasingly difficult to generate high academically performing, orderly schools without empowering students to hold on to strong, enriching life values,” he said. “This is where I believe our schools are failing today and where we, as a community, can make a difference by teaching and reinforcing these values, helping children excel as students, citizens and human beings.”


— Sabbaye McGriff

Photo by David Caselli



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu