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Phillip Tutor: Integrity, betrayal and faith in Ohatchee

Bobby Tittle

Ohatchee High School Principal Bobby Tittle is shown with supporters at the Calhoun County Board of Education building on the day that the board failed to renew his contract. Tittle greets his head baseball coach, Blake Jennings.

Bobby Tittle, the principal at Ohatchee High School, was kicked to the curb last week by the Calhoun County Board of Education. His last day on the job is June 30.

He should be livid. Of course, he should be livid. If he is not, he’s one hell of an actor.

“I was talking to a parent the other day, and he’s a farmer,” Tittle said. And yes, when we spoke Thursday about everything that’s transpired, he told me a story about a farmer in Ohatchee.

“He said, ‘This is the only community that I know of that if my hay baler goes down, all I have to do is make a call and I can borrow three hay balers right now. It’s not somebody coming and wanting to bale it for me for $15 a bale. It’s not somebody wanting to charge me or lease me. I can just go pick up a hale baler from somebody.’”

Then, an analogy.

“That’s what (Ohatchee) is,” Tittle said. “It’s a community that watches out for everyone, that cares for everyone. It’s like our school is. It’s a tribe, they care for everyone.”

Which is why car loads of Ohatchee students and faculty drove into Anniston for the board meeting last week. They feared the worst — that the board wouldn’t renew Tittle’s contract — and voiced their displeasure. The anticlimactic result stung.

After nine years as principal, after acknowledged gains in academic results, after hiring top-flight faculty, after winning widespread community support, after state-level recognition, Ohatchee’s uber-popular principal was told he was done. Ditto for Wellborn Elementary School Principal Jeanna Chandler.

Tittle, 43 years old and four years shy of state retirement, estimates his meeting lasted two minutes, maybe three.

“There was no discussion,” he said.

But there has been silence. 

We don’t know why the board declined extending Tittle’s expiring contract because neither Superintendent Donald Turner nor the board have definitively said. The board’s wimpish “we’re going in another direction” justification is unadulterated bunk, an insult shrouded in the legal protection of executive session.

Absent facts, scuttlebutt and innuendo have bloomed, especially online, which endangers the reputations not only of Tittle but the board members themselves. Rumors, unfiltered and editor-free, have no boundaries. 

Was the Tittle decision disciplinary? Did school-system politics play a role? Did the board jettison Tittle to make room for a specific replacement? Are there larger issues at Ohatchee High the board is trying to address? 

Outsiders like me are free to assume. Ohatchee, population 1,200 or so, deserves to know. 

I asked Tittle these questions. On most, he demurred, choosing to avoid the inevitable mudslinging that would ensue. 

So we talked about his house.

It’s his family’s dream house. They moved in two weeks ago — Two weeks ago! — and plan to stay there, joblessness notwithstanding. It’s four miles from Ohatchee High. And if you’re drawing a deep breath while reading that, you should.

Tittle talks about Ohatchee, its schools and his family the way sappy newlyweds discuss their spouses: with emotion and glee. He adores anybody in Ohatchee red. He mentions Ohatchee’s teachers as if they were knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The home he and his wife Jennifer built includes a bottom floor designed specifically for their three sons and their friends, which may include every middle school-aged boy in the town.

Ever watch “That ’70s Show?” You know the basement in Eric Forman’s house? Well, it’s like that, but minus the assorted teenage degeneracy of a sitcom.

“Kids always migrate to different houses and hang out with their friends, and I want our house to offer that for my sons’ friends,” Tittle said. “That way, parents can feel at ease knowing that their kids are hanging out at the principal’s house, knowing there is proper supervision going on.”

Before last week, Tittle’s plan was to remain at Ohatchee until his oldest son, who’s 14, graduates. He wanted to hand Carson his diploma, and then mull retirement. Now, that won’t happen. And, “l’ll be honest with you,” he said, “my middle son, he’s going into seventh grade next year, and he was extremely upset that he would never have me as a principal.”

The collateral effects of the board’s decision are widespread and profound.

Last Thursday night, Tittle thought about the future and his next opportunity, wherever it may come. God’s plan, he said, is bigger than his. He huddled with his boys. He talked to them about integrity, about betrayal, about faith. “I had to talk to them about several things they didn’t understand,” he said. “But I can’t expect them to live one way and me live another.”

 

 

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is a Star columnist. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.