Russellville Middle School Principal Tony Bonds (second from right) is celebrated for being named the 2023 Alabama Middle School Principal of the Year. Congratulating bonds are (from left) Dr. Vic Wilson, executive director of the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools and the Alabama Association of Secondary School Principals; Dr. Heath Grimes, Russellville City Schools superintendent; and Hayley Ezell, representative for Horace Mann, which sponsors the award.

State association names RMS principal as middle school principal of year

Russellville Middle School Principal Tony Bonds thought he was going to the school library for a reception for his 40th birthday. He didn’t know he would be attending an award presentation naming him Alabama’s 2023 Middle School Principal of the Year, presented by the Alabama Association of Secondary School Principals.

While Bonds knew he was up for the honor, he didn’t find out about his selection until the surprise presentation.

Bonds said he learned of his nomination at the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools District 7 meeting, held in the latter half of 2022 at Northwest-Shoals Community College.

“I felt privileged to be nominated by my peers,” said Bonds, who has served five of his 13 years in education as an administrator.

Bonds grew up in Russellville, graduating from RHS in 2001. He went to Ole Miss on a football scholarship, graduating in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, after which he worked in banking for a couple of years.

Bonds said he initially had no idea he wanted to go into education, other than having an interest in coaching. He went to visit one of his old coaches to see if there was any help he could offer the players.

Following that conversation, he was persuaded to become a history teacher. He went on to earn his master’s degree from Bethel University in 2014, after which he worked as a coach and history teacher in Tennessee and Alabama.

“What I loved about teaching history is that it’s what our country is built on,” explained Bonds. “It’s important for us to teach our kids correct history so we don’t make the mistakes we made in the past.”

He joined the ranks of administration in 2018 when he became the assistant principal at RMS, going on to be named principal the following year.

He’s one year away from finishing a doctorate in educational leadership from Virginia’s Liberty University.

“To see people recognize the effort we put in for our kids here is pretty awesome,” said Bonds. “We challenge our kids, and we are doing some really good things.”

He said he can’t take all the credit for his accomplishments. “I have really great people around me that allow me to be able to take my vision and put it into action,” Bonds said. “We have wonderful teamwork in our school and throughout the school system.”

Bonds said the common goal is a “kids first” approach, noting they all strive to do what’s best for the students. “I think we do a really good job of that,” he added.

He explained his philosophy also includes appreciating the people around him and recognizing it takes everyone working together to provide the best education for the students.

Bonds said what he likes most about being a middle school principal is getting the opportunity to see how the students grow over the three years they are enrolled at RMS.

“They come in as elementary students and leave as secondary students,” he said. “They’re still trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are going to be and what path they’re going to take in life. To see the students grow academically and mature into young adults is pretty awesome.”

He said what RMS teaches students goes beyond the textbook, including teaching them “how to be productive human beings.”

The award is sponsored by Horace Mann each year. As this year’s recipient, Bonds will receive an office makeover provided by Interior Elements.

Other district finalists included Desaree Jackson, principal of Calgary Middle School, and Kyle Pinckard, principal of Boaz Middle School. A panel of judges at the November 2022 AASSP/AAMSP conference interviewed each finalist.

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