CHS Class of 2008 graduate Andrew Gordon with his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Cesia.
CHS alum's spiritual side leads him
to where he needs to go, what to do
In this ongoing series, we reach out to CHS alumni to learn what they are doing now that they have the advantage of experience, education and self-reflection. This month’s pick is Andrew Gordon, Class of 2008. Andrew’s career path has been consistent, yet ever-evolving. His unwavering faith directs his next steps, but his responsibilities as a husband and father also influence where those steps will take them.
EDUCATIONAL PURSUITS: A stellar student-athlete for the Trojans, Andrew earned a scholarship to Sewanee: The University of the South where he played football, graduating in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Religion with a minor in Spanish. “I’m currently in my second year of a three-year Masters in Divinity degree program with a concentration in Latinx Ministry at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, expecting to graduate in May 2022.”
EMPLOYMENT: Before heading to seminary as a graduate student, Andrew returned home to teach Spanish at CHS for three years and coached football and soccer. Prior to that, he taught at the Mayatan Bilingual School in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, where he also served as a coach and athletic director. Today, Andrew is a Candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “This means I am on the path, God willing and the people consenting, to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church.”
PERSONAL: “My wife, Julie, and I (pictured at left at a Día folklórico celebration) had our first child in November of 2020. Our baby girl, Cesia, brings us immense joy (and not much sleep)! We are cherishing the exciting, difficult, and holy moments of being new parents to our beautiful daughter.”
HOBBIES: Andrew enjoys running, gardening, woodworking, hiking and camping, in addition to spending time with his wife and daughter.
PROFESSIONAL ASPIRATIONS: “I hope to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in the coming years. Lots of different ministries are exciting to me: Latinx ministry, camp ministry, hiking ministry, farming ministry, and traditional parish ministry. Part of this process is welcoming in the willingness to listen to God and trusting that God’s call will lead me to where I am indeed called to be. The work of the Gospel is endless, and it is my hope that wherever I may end up, I can serve as a bridge-builder focused on the power of human connection and potential of the human spirit, the hope of the resurrection, and the holy love that connects us all.”
PERSONAL ASPIRATIONS: “Personally, I hope to grow as a husband and a father—those are my most important titles to date! I want to always strive to live a life of adventure and exploration. I hope to always continue to learn and experience new things, and to carry a sense of humor that meets my innate seriousness with a smile and a laugh.”
WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT LEARNING SPANISH? “At this point, I’ve been studying Spanish in some form or fashion for over half my life. The language has afforded me countless relationships and experiences that would have been impossible without it, and for that I am grateful. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about language learning, it’s that it is a marathon, not a sprint. While there will be times when everything is clicking, comprehension is near perfect, and production is clear, there are also times that feel like hitting a giant wall, where comprehension is minimal and production is almost impossible. Keep pushing through those plateaus, because soon the climb will start again! I don’t think there is ever an ‘end’ when learning a language. Rather, it is an intentional process that, if committed to, can become endlessly life-giving.”
Carrollton High School literary team member and top debater Alec Siek brought home another state title following this past weekend’s Georgia High School Association state literary championship held at Buford High School.
Alec captured the extemporaneous speaking crown in AAAAAA, repeating his region win last month. Literary is a competition featuring a variety of performing, writing, and speaking competitions. Prior to the literary championship, Alec and fellow senior Patrick Berzsenyi led the CHS debate team to victory in the Georgia Forensic Coaches Association state competition’s public forum finals, resulting in the program’s 11th state title.
Two other CHS literary team members also medaled at state. Junior Tyler Grubbs placed third in the oral performance humorous category and freshman Edward Kenyon placed third in argumentative essay.
Carrollton City Schools Supt. Dr. Mark Albertus, left, presents Tom Upchurch an engraved silver tray commemorating the honor. At right is CHS Principal David Brooks.
Upchurch presented award for 17 years
of distinguished service at school district
Arguably no one has made a more significant impact on public education in Georgia than Tom Upchurch, former superintendent of Carrollton City Schools, who was honored April 15 as the 17th recipient of the Carrollton High School Distinguished Alumni Award.
Though technically not a Carrollton alumnus, “his influence on the quality of our school system – and public education as an institution – is unmatched,” said Dr. Mark Albertus, current superintendent, who presented Upchurch the award during the CHS Academic Achievement Awards Program held in the Mabry Center for the Arts.
Upchurch first joined Carrollton City Schools in 1977 as principal of CHS, a leadership post he held for four years. He then served the next 13 as superintendent where he became known across the state as a visionary leader who championed education reform, the emergence of computer technology for the classroom, and the desperate need for early-learning opportunities, especially for at-risk students. This latter passion put Carrollton City Schools on the map as the first public school district in Georgia to offer a free prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds.
“Georgia political and corporate leadership alike regularly sought his advice,” said Albertus during the presentation. “They valued his passion for public education and his willingness to take chances for the betterment of all children. They listened to him explain why a strong public education system was critical to not only make Georgia successful as a state, but to make Georgia equally successful in economic development pursuits.”
As superintendent, one strategic move he made created the 130-acre campus the community enjoys today. In 1986, he moved Carrollton Junior High School to its current location followed by Carrollton Elementary School in 1992 when three elementary schools scattered across town – Alabama Street, College Street, and Maple Street – were consolidated. These two newer schools now shared the same footprint with Carrollton High School, leaving plenty of room for later leadership to add another school and outstanding art and athletic facilities.
“As a result, visitors today marvel at how a public school campus boasts the feel of an elite private school experience, a distinction that can be credited to Mr. Upchurch’s forward thinking,” said Albertus.
Albertus also noted that through determination and charisma, Upchurch successfully nurtured community and business partnerships that produced millions of dollars in contributions to support academic, athletic, and technological endeavors for the district, including the formation of the Carrollton City Schools Education Foundation, a nonprofit that has grown from a $20,000 single fund in 1992 to a portfolio expected to surpass the $1 million mark this year. Upchurch also was instrumental in establishing the broader-focused Community Foundation of West Georgia, another nonprofit serving three counties that holds $100 million in total assets.
Over the years, Upchurch developed a statewide reputation as an educational leader whose vision was followed by savvy execution. He continued this focus as a member of the state Board of Education and served on numerous state education reform committees under Georgia Govs. Zell Miller and Roy Barnes that radically changed educational practices in the state, including an emphasis placed on what is now a standard goal of all school districts – closing the achievement gap.
In 1994 Upchurch left Carrollton City Schools to lead the statewide organization Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, where he used his political skills to guide efforts among business, government and education leaders who shared a commitment to improve education.
Those who are close to him say Upchurch’s passions have never waned, and even in retirement, he is a constant knowledge-seeker who seeks opportunities for the common good. Part of this includes philanthropic work for various causes, including KidsPeace, a therapeutic boarding school in Bowdon he has supported since its beginning that serves adolescents with behavioral and emotional disorders.
Active in the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, especially in Workforce Education, the chamber named a special award after Upchurch in 2012 as a tribute to his efforts to reform public education and create quality jobs for Carroll County citizens. He has been recognized countless other times for his impact on education by other local and state organizations, including the Georgia Council on Economic Education, Voices for Georgia’s Children, University of West Georgia, Mercer University, the Georgia School Boards Association, and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders. In 2018, he and his wife Patsy, also a lifelong educator, were presented the UWG Alumni Achievement Award for their community service efforts, which included the establishment of a foundation for schools in their hometown of Bowdon.
When Upchurch walked up to the podium to make closing remarks, he said he never expected Carrollton High School would honor him in this way, especially since he was not an official alum. But he did note his children, John Upchurch and Lisa Upchurch Moore, are alumni and assured this next crop that they, too, will leave CHS ready to take on the world.
“This experience at Carrollton High School, even during this pandemic year, has prepared you for that next step in this journey of life,” he said. “Your parents and grandparents and teachers – especially your teachers – they expected you to be good students. But you far exceeded any expectation.”
Upchurch quipped about older generations giving unsolicited advice to younger ones. “Most old people can’t resist giving advice and I’m no exception to that,” he said. “I encourage you to find mentors you respect and look at those things that made them who they are. I remember one person in particular who helped me develop that core set of beliefs that we all need to guide our daily lives. You know what they are – honesty, integrity and hard work.”
“Try hard things. Don’t be afraid to fail. Take a chance,” he continued. “Express your emotions especially to those you love and who love you. Listen to others, but make your own decisions.”
Upchurch closed with a key piece of advice especially poignant during these polarized times.
“Treat all with whom you come in contact with respect,” he told the students. “That means those you like as well as dislike. Those with whom you agree and those with whom you disagree. Look for the good and call attention to it whenever you have an opportunity.”
Upchurch joins an impressive list of distinguished alumni who have been recognized through this honor initiative. Launched in 2012, the program to date has honored 15 other exceptional CHS graduates: Edith Foster, Class of 1922; Albert Jones and J. Steward Martin, Class of 1930; J.Willis Hurst, Class of 1937; E.C. “Sonny” Bass, Class of 1938; Hollis Harris, Class of 1949; John H. Burson, Class of 1951; Richard M. Ingle, Class of 1964; D. Garvin Byrd, Class of 1969; Jane Crosson, Class of 1974; William Crosson, Class of 1976; Scott Deviney, Class of 1989; James C. Pope, Class of 1962; Shereta Williams, Class of 1992; and Jim Borders, Class of 1979. In addition to Upchurch, the slate includes another honorary alumnus W.W. Fitts, who was a founding member of the Carrollton Board of Education.