Fort Payne Superintendent Jim Cunningham has been named as a finalist for the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) 2021 Superintendent of the Year award. Cunningham joins eight other superintendents representing nine districts statewide. Nominations for the award were submitted from each of the SSA districts.
His accomplishments are many and distinguished. Cunningham received “The People’s Choice Award” awarded annually by the Fort Payne Times Journal in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003.
He was named the “Times Journal Citizen of Influence in 1999” and recognized by the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce as “Educator of the Year” in 2009.
The Fort Payne native worked his way up to superintendent after working since 1984 as a local civics and history teacher, football and basketball coach, principal at Forest Avenue Elementary, Wills Valley Elementary and Fort Payne High School.
He graduated from FPHS in 1975 as a member of the National Honor Society and played football.
The state Superintendent of the Year winner will be determined based on his or her career achievements and success in advancing public education, according to SSA Executive Director Ryan Hollingsworth.
Cunningham was recently installed as SSA’s new president for 2020-21, responsible for conducting meetings and communicating the concerns and issues of the state’s superintendents.
Fort Payne Board of Education President Jimmy Durham said, “The City of Fort Payne has been fortunate to have Mr. Jim Cunningham serve in many capacities within our City school system including being principal at two of our schools and finally the past 19 years as the City’s School Superintendent. I have always considered it an honor to have worked with him as one of his board members for the past 19 years. I have always said that as a member of the city Board of Education, the best decision we ever made was the hiring of Mr. Cunningham as our City Superintendent.”
Durham said he wished everyone could see all the work Cunningham puts into the school system.
As vice president of the Fort Payne Board of Education, Kathy Prater has worked closely with Cunningham.
She said, “[He] has a way of leading people to the next level of excellence first by example and next by vision. When the state superintendent takes a tour of your schools and leaves in awe of your facilities, administrators, programs in place, students and employees on every level, it’s an undeniable testament to leadership. Due to Jimmy’s leadership and vision, when the unforeseen pandemic hit, our schools were prepared with the technology in place to transition with ease. He always strive to be the best and is never satisfied with status quo because he believes that in the world we live in now, you have to keep evolving or you’ll be left behind.”
Williams Avenue Elementary School Principal Jennifer List said that when she came to Northeast Alabama 12 years ago, she was “so impressed that this small, out-of-the-way town tucked between two mountains, was so forward thinking and was one of the top technology-integrated schools in Alabama. How could this be? It is because of Mr. Cunningham. He is a visionary in the field of education and is always strives to provide the best educational opportunities for the students and teachers of Fort Payne City Schools. His dedication, hard work, passion, and leadership are contagious and encourage me as a young principal to be the best that I can be for my students, teachers, staff and families.”
FPHS Principal Brian Jett agreed, saying, “When it comes to the area of education, I think Mr. Jim Cunningham is one of the best visionary leaders of our time. He has guided our school system with a student-centered educational approach. He has led the Fort Payne City School System to empower and prepare students to become successful individuals.”
Fort Payne Middle School Principal Shane Byrd said, “Mr. Cunningham provides our school system with dedicated and consistent leadership. He leads by example and inspires hard work and dedication in those who work with him. His forward thinking provides our teachers and students with the most up-to-date educational resources available. Our school system is very fortunate to have him as our leader.”
WVES Principal Sally Wheat added, “Mr. Cunningham is very deserving of this recognition, as he has proven to be a dedicated leader in our school system that ensures that our students are provided with the best educational opportunities. He, along with school board members, allocates resources in a manner that allows our students to achieve at the highest levels. Mr. Cunningham is at the forefront of new and emerging educational advancements and always wants Fort Payne to be on top. He is a great example of what a leader should be and inspires me to be a better principal.”
SSA’s 2021 Superintendent of the Year winner will be announced and honored at a luncheon sponsored by Schneider Electric on Feb. 2, 2021, held during the organization’s legislative conference in Montgomery.
Schneider Electric will provide Alabama’s winner with a Superintendent of the Year ring and travel expenses to the AASA National Conference on Education Feb. 18-20, 2021, in New Orleans. While there, Alabama’s winner will receive a bronze medallion and a plaque from AASA – the School Superintendents Association, SSA’s national affiliate and sponsor of the program.
Each state’s winner will be recognized during the AASA National Conference where the national winner for 2021 will be announced.
Cunningham completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Education at Jacksonville State University in 1979. He began his teaching career in Jackson County in 1979 as a history teacher and football coach. In 1990 he completed his Masters in school administration. In 1992 he completed his education specialist degree in school administration.
He is a member of the Association of School Superintendents of Alabama, Alabama Education Association, Fort Payne Education Association, Fort Payne Kiwanis Club, Fort Payne Rotary Club, DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame Board, DeKalb County Tourist Association, DeKalb County Library Board, Industrial Development Board of Fort Payne and the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce. He is also a member of the Fort Payne Church of Christ.