OHATCHEE — Bobby Tittle didn’t know about his farewell party Wednesday night, but when he opened the door to the fellowship hall of Ten Islands Church, about 50 voices shouting “surprise” clued him in.
Keeping a secret in a small town is no small feat, and Ohatchee is among Calhoun County’s smallest. But students and families dedicated to Tittle, the principal of Ohatchee High School whose contract was not renewed by the county Board of Education in March, somehow managed to keep the con from reaching the educator until Wednesday night. Maybe it had just been a busy day or two; after his contract with Calhoun County ends in June, Cherokee County High School will welcome him as principal, Tittle had announced earlier Wednesday morning.
“I’m at a loss for words right now, for the first time,” Tittle said, getting a laugh from the partygoers just after he stepped through the door.
Getting the principal to the party was a bit of business in itself. A student and close friend of the Tittle family had called and said her car, parked at the church, wouldn’t start. Tittle drove with his wife and kids and jumper cables to the church, where he’d been told a party was going on for high schoolers. That party explained away the two dozen cars in the church parking lot.
Just a few minutes after Tittle’s arrival, a student-made photo slideshow displayed dozens of memories from Tittle’s nine years as principal. During that time, Tittle earned various honors, including a designation from the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools naming Ohatchee High as a School of Distinction, a Making a Difference award from the Alabama High School Athletics Association and an appointment to speak this summer at a conference of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
“I’m not going to sit here and make a sappy thing out of it, but it’s going to be all right, it’s going to be good,” Tittle said. “It’s going to be a next chapter. You guys are going to be good. You’re going to be great.”
Tittle was clearly wrought with emotion, but he kept his upbeat attitude, pointing out that his family isn’t moving away and his sons — Cannon, 6, Cayce, 12, and Carson, 14 — will remain Ohatchee students.
After he addressed the audience, Tittle briefly spoke with a reporter about the school board decision not to renew his contract.
“You hate that the best interest of the students wasn’t involved in some of these decisions, but we’re looking forward to the next chapter and we’re excited about the opportunities ahead,” he said.
Jennifer, Tittle’s wife, also spoke to the community members gathered to say goodbye to her husband.
“I have never in my life felt so loved as a family and it’s because of this community,” she said. “We are a big family and I want y’all to know how much we appreciate that.”