Meet The Principal: Christopher "Topher" Byrnes PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 04 September 2017 15:26
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about the principals in the Chattooga and Trion School Systems. The second story is about one of the newest ones, Topher Byrnes of Trion Elementary School.)
Christopher Byrnes, Topher as he likes to be called, is the second year principal at Trion Elementary School.
Byrnes grew up in East Point, near the Atlanta Airport. His parents lived there for 50 years.
“I went out to San Diego, Calif., for a little while,” Byrnes said. “In my formative years, until I was 20ish, I was there in East Point.”
He graduated from Arlington School, a small private school in Ben Hill that has since moved to Fairburn. There were about 300 students in the K-12 school.
“It is still open, I think it is Arlington Christian School now,” he added.
He began his collegiate career at the University of Georgia and finished at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. He then went into the Navy for four years and while in the Navy he finished his degrees while serving on an aircraft carrier.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Byrnes said. “Those 12 on and 12 off for seven days gave you plenty of time to do what you needed to do.”
He served as an intelligence specialist as a photographic interpreter.
“A lot of it was drug interdiction at the time,” The Trion Elementary Principal said. “I was attached to an F-14 squadron.”
They would put huge camera pods underneath their planes and fly over places in Hawaii and take infrared pictures of the terrain. Marijuana grows hotter than Hawaii’s natural vegetation and you would see red squares of pot growing in the pictures.
“We would then give the coordinates to the DEA and they would do their thing,” he said.
When Byrnes left the military he was in California and decided to move back to Georgia.
In the process of moving back, he decided he didn’t want to stick with what most people did when they left the service from the intelligence community and go into governmental jobs with the security clearance needed.
“I did that for a little while but just didn’t enjoy it,” Byrnes said. “I decided I wanted to go back to school and get my degree in education with an add-on in teaching.”
He ended up going to a couple of classes in North Georgia to get his Masters in education. While he was there he looked on an informal, small bulletin board and on a 3x5 card with a push pin in it read that LaGrange Academy was looking for a middle school social studies teacher, varsity soccer and varsity basketball coach – boys and girls.
He played basketball in high school and tried to walk on when he was at the University of Georgia but didn’t make the cut. He had a lot of basketball and soccer experience that he also played throughout high school and on club teams afterwards.
“I thought that this would be the perfect fit for me.”
He drove down to LaGrange wearing shorts and a T-shirt one day, not planning to talk with anyone, but to just look at the school.
The head mistress was there, Martha Ann Todd, who works with the Georgia Department of Education now. 
“We sparked up a conversation which led to a more formal interview which led to a job offer,” Byrnes said. “That’s where it all started, back in 1993.”
From there, Byrnes went to a private school in Atlanta as Dean of Students at St. Francis. They had a campus in Roswell and were building a brand new high school and were separating the high school from the other students in the K-12 school. He became the Dean of Students for two years and then became the high school principal (coordinator) in the new facility for two years or so.
“I had a wonderful time doing that and keep in touch with several of the administrators that are still there,” he added. “It was a wonderful school and a wonderful opportunity.”
He said at that point he decided he needed to go into public schools. He had been in private schools all his life including his education.
He interviewed in Troup County as a high school social studies teacher and made the jump into public schools.
“That’s one of the best decisions I have ever made,” Byrnes said. 
He stayed there for one year and moved up into administration and became an assistant principal at LaGrange High School.
Most recently he was the principal at Haralson County High School for four years before going to Trion last year.
“I think I have the perfect trifecta now,” Byrnes said. “Having been a principal at the elementary, administrator and teacher in the middle school and an administrator and teacher in the high school I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of where everyone is in terms of their needs and expectations.”
Asked how he liked Trion, Byrnes said, “Being at Trion has been remarkable, the family environment, the feeling of family and the closeness of the community is something to behold. The luxury of having all of the schools on the same campus promotes the interaction between middle and elementary and high school that other schools don’t have the opportunity to do.”
“It is just a wonderful, wonderful environment,” Byrnes added. “It has been a tremendous learning curve, I feel like I am still learning the elementary way because it is significantly different from the high school.”
Asked what makes the field of education important to him, Byrnes said, “Watching a child grow and being able to be a part of molding them to become productive citizens. You get to see that a lot in high school but now I feel I am at the beginning front of that. In the elementary school, you are in the front line, this is where the kids learn the difference between right and wrong, the value of work and to be a part of that and be able to help mold kids into productive citizens, the hope is you see these productive citizens graduating to middle school and high school 12 years from now and just watching them mature and grow and become wonderful contributors to Trion.”
Asked what makes a great school, Byrnes said, “Traditions are incredibly important and I am not talking about the frivolous traditions, I am talking about the traditions of academic history. Trion City Schools has a strong, lengthy history of being one of the top performers in the state. That kind of tradition builds upon itself. That is one of the most significant items that identify great schools.”
Asked if he retired today, what would he want to be remembered for by people, Byrnes said, “I would want be remembered as someone who loved kids, as someone who loved the faculty and staff that can fully embrace the child. He loves to get emails and notes from kids and teachers that have good memories. If I could be remembered for pushing the love of education and making a difference and I want to make a difference. Making a difference is part of that hope that you are making a difference. Hopefully it is more than just data where you bring your school from Point A to Point B, which is important but hopefully there is that relationship and personal component that will be lasting as well.”
Byrnes and his wife Leah, who is a teacher at Armuchee High School, live in the Dry Creek area of Chattooga County. They have five children. Three are grown, one is at the University of Tennessee, one is at the Medical College of Charleston getting her doctorate in Occupational Therapy and one is married and lives in San Diego. She is married and in the Coast Guard finishing up her Bachelor’s Degree. They have two children that are still in high school.
 
 


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