September 11, 2019
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Judy Goodwin was the first in her family to graduate from college with an advanced degree.
Neither parent went beyond the eighth grade and yet this marks her 48th year in education and her 20th school year as principal at Barfield Elementary. No current principal has held the top administrative role at their respective school for as long as Goodwin has been the principal at Barfield.
In fact, 20 of the 49 schools in Rutherford County have opened their doors after Goodwin, who created and implemented an accelerated kindergarten program prior to transitioning into administrative roles at John Colemon, Stewartsboro, Rockvale and Lascassas elementary schools.
Though she’s just two more school years from a half-century of service, no one in her family has followed into education — yet.
“As much as I would love it,” Goodwin said, “I have a granddaughter that I would absolutely love it if she followed that, but I also know, at the age, if I pressed, she would go the opposite way, so I hope someday she might discover that it's a is a possibility.”
Goodwin recently talked about her attraction to elementary education and the passion she has for waking up and coming to school every single day of her life.
RCS: What attracts you to elementary education?
JG: When I was six years old, I was the smallest kid in my class. I graduated high school the smallest kid in my class. My teacher in first grade was Ms. Francis and Ms. Francis was only about 4-foot-11. She really taught me that little people can do great things because she was an amazing teacher. And so from that point on, as a six-year-old, I always wanted to be a teacher.
RCS: When you arrived at Barfield for the 1999-2000 school year, could you imagine then that in 2019-2020 this is where you would still be?
JG: No. Because kindergarten classes tended to be shifted around in Smyrna a lot — I was in Smyrna for 17 years — and typically wherever they could find space for kindergarten, they would shift us there. So I rarely had more than, I think the longest time I had at any school in Smyrna was about five years. I had the good fortune actually to have that decision made for me and I enjoy change and challenge, so that was a good thing for me. It's been much to my surprise that I've been here 20 years.
RCS: What is it about Barfield that you're as engaged today as you were the first day you walked in the door?
JG: I think it's having the opportunity to select a very diverse staff in terms of their methodology and personality, the support of the community, which of course includes the families, and I think we are very united in our mission here. That's kept me going and actually change. If I believed that every day was going to be the same, I would be doing something else, so because I never know what I'm going to face each day — I love that — and I'm supported by a great certified and classified staff.
RCS: You have had a fuller and a richer career that goes beyond Barfield, but, what you've accomplished here in these past 20 years and however much longer you are here, is this what will define your career?
JG: What I hope will define my career is that I view education as a sacred career and it excites me to be able to develop relationships that I believe matter. It's not a place, it's a mindset of the important thing being developed with those close relationships with students, with families, with staff.
RCS: That said, it is hard to imagine anyone talking about Barfield without talking about you or vice versa — talking about you without talking about these past 20 years — so with all due respect, have you contemplated a time when you would wake up and not spend your day at Barfield?
JG: No, I have not. My husband says I'm the only person he knows that can't wait to get to work every day. I've said the day that I wake up and say, "I wish I didn't have to go to do this job today," that is the day I probably would contemplate it. I am asked all the time, "How are you enjoying retirement?" Well, that's not even a relevant question. I'm asked all the time, "When are you going to retire?" And I just say, "Never." Cry.
RCS: You noticed I found a way to word that without using the word.
JG: I know.
RCS: I didn't want to be offensive.
JG: Most people think, 48 years, why are you still there? The statement everybody makes is, “Retire so that you can do something that you love.” Why would I ever think that retirement would bring anything greater than the love I have for the work that I do?
JG: Yeah, it is passion. It really is. I just love every day. Even the bad days are good days because I'm still learning. I'm still learning every day how to make a situation better, how to advance educational opportunities for our students.
PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT