McIntosh High School Principal Lisa Fine calls herself “a second-career educator,” but by all appearances she was born to be an administrator.
Fine’s passion for excellence makes her a fitting leader of the high school that consistently leads Fayette County in academics, ranks tops in the state in testing and even garners national attention from time to time. This reputation precedes Fine, as she has only been the Chiefs’ chief since Nov. 2008, but she says she is determined to not let the tradition end on her watch.
A career in education hadn’t been Fine’s first thoughts when she graduated North Clayton High School in 1975. After she earned an associate’s degree in psychology, the born-in-Germany “Army brat” joined Eastern Airlines where she served as a flight attendant for 13 years.
By the time Eastern closed shop, Fine was married with three children, which made it challenging when she returned to academia by enrolling in Mercer University night classes. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education and began teaching at Whitewater Middle School in 1993.
Fine would spend 11 years teaching on the middle school level (she also spent a few years at Rising Starr) before taking the assistant principal spot at McIntosh High in 2004. In the meantime, she earned a master’s degree and a specialist degree from University of West Georgia along with a leadership certification from University of Georgia.
“I wanted to make a contribution to society,” Fine says of her career choice after leaving the travel industry. “I wanted to do something where I could make an impact.”
Fine started the 2008 school year as assistant principal, but in November of that year she was promoted to the top spot.
In a way, Fine has experienced two career changes if you consider the differences between being a teacher and being an administrator.
“I was actually encouraged by colleagues,” Fine says of the switch to the administrative track. “I had a global perspective, and I was a teacher advocate.
“And I was an instructionally sound teacher,” Fine said. “They thought those were good qualities for the leader of a school.”
Fine was the Fayette County Public Schools “Teacher of the Year” in 2002.
“I had high expectations in the classroom,” Fine said. “And I continue to have those expectations of the teachers in my school.”
Fine says one of her great joys is identifying areas of weakness, however major or minor, and helping develop plans to address them.
“I’m good at analyzing data and then collaborating with leaders,” Fine said. “I work with my department chairs, and we collaborate to create a plan for improvement.
“We had a 98-percent pass rate on the writing test,” Fine remembers. “I want a 99. I want a hundred.”
Since those early days of teaching, Fine says she is particularly impressed with how much technology has changed the classroom experience.
“We didn’t even have a computer in the classroom when I began teaching,” Fine said. “And now teachers are using devices that project information on the board.
“Technology, to me, is the biggst change in education,” she said.
“Also, the attention to individual needs,” Fine added. “You taught whole-group instruction back then, and now we differentiate instruction much more to address students’ needs.”
In addition to McIntosh’s strong academic position, Fine says the school also has an impressive fine arts emphasis and improving sports reputation.
“In the arts arena, we have outstanding chorus, orchestra, band and art programs,” Fine said. “And our drama program placed third last year in the state one-act play competition. We were the region winner.
“We certainly have made our name in the athletic arenas as well,” Fine said, touting the school’s five state championships during the 2013-2014 school year. And yes, she can name them all without looking at her notes: Volleyball, cheerleading, dance and boys and girls soccer.
“We were the first school in Fayette County to win the director’s cup when we won it in 2013,” Fine said. That award was given by the Georgia Athletic Director’s Association based on a points system. McIntosh won both the girls division and the overall awards.
“That was major,” said Fine.
McIntosh’s boys soccer team has been ranked number one in the nation for two consecutive years. They haven’t lost a game since 2012. That’s 45 straight wins. They’ve outscored their opponents 271-9.
Fine says she is particularly pleased with the school’s football team improvement. Not historically a feared team, the Chiefs Football varsity team last year won their first five games and ended the season with an impressive 8-3 record and a playoff berth. It was their first-ever playoff appearance.
As with every other principal interviewed by this newspaper in recent weeks, Fine says two keys to continued success are to garner parent support with good communication and to never grow complacent.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Fine said. “I strive to hire very good educators and communicate the message that continuous improvement is required.”