MADISON – After 28 years in education, Dennis James has retired from Madison City Schools. ‘Retirement’ may be a misnomer because he has no plans to sit idle.
James announced his retirement to Madison Board of Education in April 2017. Central Office colleagues and friends wished him well at a farewell reception at Blue Pants Brewery before his last day on April 25.
For the past seven years, James has served as MCS Director of Student Services. Previously, for nine years he taught math and coached at Bob Jones High School, where he founded cross-country and indoor track teams.
James was assistant principal at Liberty Middle School and principal at Columbia Elementary School, both in six-year stints. Before entering the education field, he was an officer in the U.S. Air Force. His wife Mary Pat has worked as a legal secretary in Huntsville, also for 28 years.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Athens State University, James received a master’s degree in educational leadership from University of North Alabama and an educational specialist degree from University of Alabama.
James believes each student has talents. “You have to take time to connect with each student, find what they’re passionate about and help them reach their potential,” he said. “Too many people get hung up on a grade. The important thing is to find a child’s talent and help them develop it … (so) they find happiness in life and where they’ll make a difference.”
The Madison district’s top three assets are “people, people, people! (students, teachers/staff and parents),” he said.
Efforts beyond classroom walls have shown students that educators care about them individually. “They are far more important than a test score.” He cited the We Care team for temporary assistance to student families in need, backpack food program and expansion of counseling services and School Resource Officer program.
“We’ve also tried to model servant leadership (so) students learn when they (can) help, they have a responsibility to help,” James said. “That’s how our partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital started.”
James has led the district’s fundraising campaigns for St. Jude. Students have experienced real-life connections with peers. To raise money for St. Jude, he and Mary Pat climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Dennis and Mary Pat are moving to Memphis, Tennessee, home of St. Jude. Mary Pat will lead volunteer efforts with St. Peter’s Church. Dennis is collaborating with St. Jude to expand the hospital’s presence in American schools.
Their son Patrick recently finished serving in the Air Force and has enrolled in college in Maryland. Daughter Molly teaches first-graders at Columbia.
Dennis and Mary Pat are active members of St. Vincent de Paul through St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. Mary Pat has delivered meals to homeless individuals. Dennis has served on United Way’s board.
Most people don’t realize Dennis has flown solo in an Air Force jet and worked as pit master on a professional barbecue team. At 18 years old, he was one of Alabama’s youngest reporters to win a press award.
“In looking back, Mary Pat and I have such fond memories … all centering around people, not a job or a place,” he said. “We’ve been blessed that our lives have crossed paths with so many wonderful people. It has been an honor to be a small part of their lives.”
“I will certainly miss so many people, but Mary Pat and I are very excited to tackle some new challenges in the next chapter of our lives,” James said.