A look at the man who stepped up and led Madison City Schools through the toughest challenge the school district has yet to face
The challenges for all school districts in Alabama and across the nation seemed almost surreal as the impact of COVID-19 became all too real. School campuses shut down and educators found new ways to stay connected with their students.
The man leading the Madison City Schools District did not have a lot of experience at being the system’s superintendent. In fact, he had only been on the job a few days before the schools took their hardest hit from the crisis. However, his leadership as the interim superintendent during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, steered the school district in the right direction and brought city and school leaders together. For that, Eric Terell has earned the admiration of a grateful city.
At age 39, Eric Terrell has experienced more than most at that young age. On the verge of entering his 17th year in education, the native of Hamilton, Ala. has been a special education teacher, assistant athletic coach, a head coach, athletic director, assistant principal, assistant superintendent and interim superintendent all within the Madison City Schools System.
Despite all of his experiences he remains goal driven – “I plan to be a lifer in education and if the Good Lord’s willing, I would step into the superintendent position full-time.” Terrell is an easy-going, quiet leader as he understands his place in his career and how to deal with others, especially the young students.
Growing up in the small town of Hamilton located in Marion County with a population of less than 10,000, he played recreational sports and spent a lot of time at the homes of his grandparents where he would hunt, fish and watch TV shows such as Andy Griffith and Dukes of Hazzard. His athletic prowess included baseball, basketball, football and track and his desire to lead others led him to become an educator and athletics coach.
“I was attending school to become an electrical engineer as I was always interested in electronics helping others with their computers and installing electronics in their cars,” said Terrell. “I took up those types of things as a hobby and not a career.”
While attending Alabama A&M he came across the opportunity to coach a youth league team and soon fell in love with the idea of helping the youth around him. After three years into the degree program in electrical engineering, he suddenly switched gears and completed his degree in education. He added, “I felt I could make a difference, motivate and guide others.”
Upon graduating from Alabama A&M in 2004 he took his first teaching assignment in special education and as a coach at Discovery Middle School. Soon afterwards, he moved across Madison to Liberty Middle School where he continued teaching special education and became head coach of both the football and basketball programs. From 2006-2012 he worked at Bob Jones High in special education along with becoming the head coach of the freshman football team and assistant head coach of the varsity team. During his tenure there he also became assistant principal.
Terrell assisted the opening of James Clemens High in 2012 as assistant principal and athletic director and remained there until he took a position within the Madison City Schools administration when he was named assistant superintendent in 2017 and, upon the retirement of superintendent Robby Parker earlier in 2020, was named interim superintendent until the organization hired a new person to handle the position of superintendent.
“It just wasn’t my time to have that position,” said Terrell of not being named superintendent.
Terrell and his wife of 15 years, LaTerra, have two daughters, 11-year old Kelsey and eight-year old Kylee. LaTerra works on Redstone Arsenal supporting the U.S. Government.
For Terrell, being a part of the school administration was never on his radar seeing himself as a teacher and coach. After all, his mentor was a special education teacher and coach at Hamilton High by the name of Blaine Hathcock who gave the young Terrell guidance in ways many could never think of.
“He told me to be a positive leader by having my face shaved, always dress well, being clean and carry myself with a positive attitude,” said Terrell. “I still contact him on occasions.”
Terrell chose special education because, “I didn’t want those students to stay behind the eight ball in life and wanted to give them hope and show them what’s out there in life,” said Terrell. “I loved the aspect of making a difference.”
He was hand selected to take the reins of the teams at Liberty as both programs were failing. At Bob Jones, his freshman football team sort of set the bar for the rest of the program as his team went undefeated. Terrell said there was more to that group of athletes than just winning. He added, “That was a very special group of athletes. They loved to practice and just enjoyed the athletics they were a part of.”
Once Terrell chose to leave the frontlines of student teaching and join the other team in administration he did notice he missed something. “Yeah, I did, as I see the lights on Friday nights I get that urge to coach again. Even now when I’m attending games for both Bob Jones and James Clemens I’m always on the sidelines near the action. Watching the players and coaches I always have that itch to coach.”
Terrell received his administration degree from Grand Canyon University in 2009 and he looks forward to someday using that education along with all of the experience he has gathered over the years to become a superintendent for a school system. He will use the knowledge he has gathered from his parents, grandparents, two siblings, teachers and coaches to be successful in whatever position he secures, but two things will be for certain- his knowledge will always be far beyond his age and the desire to coach will be everlasting.