D-B Principal Earl Lovelace preps for second retirement

Rick Wagner • May 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Former athlete stresses importance of athletics

KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett High School Principal Earl Lovelace is retiring June 30 following six years at the helm of his alma mater and a public school career spanning four decades.

Lovelace is a 1963 D-B graduate and was a basketball standout at D-B when it was housed where Sevier Middle School is today.

“I’ve had a whole lot of fun being here,” Lovelace said.

He is the only D-B graduate ever to come back as principal, but he said the faculty and staff make the school what it is.

“D-B is blessed with an outstanding faculty,” Lovelace said of about 130 teachers who teach about 1,900 students.

“Any successes we’ve had are because of having good people in key positions,” Lovelace, 64, said of his philosophy of hiring.

“I’ve worked with some tremendous people. As far as my influence here, that will not be visible until several years down the road,” Lovelace said. “I’ve always subscribed to a simple policy, and that’s always try to get the best people you can in every position, give them their job to do, and turn them loose to do it.”

He played basketball, baseball and ran track at D-B, as well as serving on the Student Council and going to Boys’ State. He won a basketball scholarship to the University of South Carolina, where he played basketball and got an undergraduate degree in history in 1967.

Lovelace then began what became a 34-year career in teaching, coaching and administration in South Carolina, followed by a two-year retirement and then six years at D-B. Along the way, he earned two master’s degrees, both from Western Carolina University, in counseling and administration.

He spent 15 years at Irmo High School coaching and teaching before becoming a principal there.

Then he became principal at Northwestern High School, where he served 15 years, then retired for two years before returning to the Volunteer State and assuming the position of principal at D-B on July 1, 2003.

Lovelace thanked Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller for the opportunity to return to D-B.

Kitzmiller said Lovelace had an impressive, distinguished career in South Carolina at two schools larger than D-B with the modified block scheduling used at D-B.

“His love for Dobyns-Bennett impressed us,” Kitzmiller said. “He never lost his passion for his alma mater.”

Kitzmiller also said Lovelace’s “team” deals with students on an individualized level.

D-B football coach Graham Clark simply said he wishes Lovelace wasn’t retiring.

Kitzmiller said he hopes to name a replacement before July 1.

Lovelace also thanked the Board of Education and community for supporting him and the school.

“It was home. I had retired in South Carolina, and this job came open,” Lovelace said.

“I said it was the only job I would apply for, and I did,” Lovelace said. “I always thought about coming back to Dobyns-Bennett someday.”

Lovelace said he plans to slow down a bit, “get rejuvenated and look for what I’m doing next.”

Whatever that is, it will include remaining in Kingsport except for more frequent visits to his daughters, one in Greenville, S.C., and one in Fort Mill, S.C., three grandsons and a granddaughter.

He and his wife, Barbara, have been married 40 years.

“Being principal here is a tough job,” Lovelace said of long hours and difficult decisions. “You think the day might not ever end.”

Shortly after returning to Tennessee, he got a firsthand view of the federal No Child Left Behind program when D-B in October 2003 was targeted because of some English scores. However, the school got off the list in 2004 and hasn’t been on it since.

“We work every day on something dealing with AYP (adequate yearly progress),” Lovelace said.

Another tough time, Lovelace said, came in 2004 when the school adopted a dress code, an issue he said “had to be dealt with.”

In retrospect, Lovelace said he would have recommended the school go with uniforms but added that the policy, as amended in subsequent years to become not so stringent, has worked well by putting the attention on students for their education, creativity and achievements, not their dress.

“The main thing is we wanted to see more cotton than skin,” Lovelace said, adding that other tough areas have been tardiness and banning most cell phone usage by students in school.

As for instructional changes, he predicted existing online classes, dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses and a pending distance learning program will flourish.

He said he is proud D-B offers classes and programs for varied students. He cited the modified block schedule, which has four daily blocks but with the first and last ones allowing more traditional, shorter singleton scheduling for things like band and ROTC,

“I just wish that every student here would take advantage of what Dobyns-Bennett offers,” Lovelace said. “There’s no reason for a person to leave here and not be ready for the next phase in their life if they put anything at all into it.”

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