CHATSWORTH — When Danny Harkleroad found out he was going to be the first principal of Bagley Middle School, he knew he wanted to do things differently.
“I had a lot of dreams on how we’d make Bagley the best it could be,” Harkleroad said on Sunday at the Bagley Bash to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary. “How could we reach every kid and make them feel special?”
From that moment, Harkleroad made Bagley’s motto “A special place for special people.”
The students and faculty knew it was special. Several hundred former students and faculty turned out to celebrate the school, to reminisce about memories made there, to reconnect and possibly to laugh at a few awkward middle school photos.
“Some of my best memories were made at this school,” said Andrew Bowen, who attended Bagley in the mid-1990s.
On the last day of the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., Bowen got a nosebleed.
“Tim Howard and Paula Davis (teachers at the school) took time out to care for me,” he said. “It was not the exception. They took care of kids.”
Bowen, now a math teacher at the STEM Academy in Murray County and pastor of Smyrna Baptist Church, says he was given experiences through the school he would not have had otherwise. Being in band is what launched a love of music for him, and he was able to participate in the Page Program at the state Capitol.
“I’m afraid kids now don’t get to do those things,” Bowen said.
Bagley Middle School was created in 1989 when Murray County High School moved to a new campus. Bagley opened in the old campus on Green Road.
Teachers started school that year with no funds budgeted for the school, no tile in the hallways, no doors on the classrooms and old textbooks. The exterior doors to the school didn’t even lock.
“The building was filthy,” Harkleroad said. “We didn’t care. We knew it was going to be a special place. We became a family. We were stuck with nothing. We didn’t get new stuff. It didn’t matter. We knew we would make a difference. ... We let them know they were special. We knew which kids needed a hug and who needed a pat on the back.”
Tim Howard, who has taught at the school since it opened, said the staff and faculty really pulled together.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but a personal loan from Dr. Harkleroad started this school,” Howard said. “The staff and faculty worked 16-, 17- and 18-hour days the weekend before school started to be ready.”
Original faculty member Melissa Adams was one of the few people who could leave Harkleroad speechless, Howard said. It had been a “tough opening” and one day she broke down and snapped at Harkleroad some things including “I have no door and not even a pencil sharpener,” Howard said.
“Dr. Harkleroad said ‘I’ll get you a pencil sharpener,’” he said.
“And he did,” Adams said from the crowd.
The faculty and students survived that first year and were closer because of what they had been through, Howard said.
“We created that special place,” he said. “We established traditions. ... People are still growing and learning at Bagley. Times change. Values remain.”