The long road that led Murray County Schools Superintendent Vickie Reed to a doctorate and a job as head of the school system started when she dropped out of school.
Growing up, Reed said she attended school in as many as three or four different systems a year while her father filled in as a temporary pastor at churches across the South.
"I had a 'first day of school' many times," said Reed, who was recognized this year as the Jim Puckett Outstanding Educator of the Year by the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders.
After years of regularly moving from one place to another, the family landed back in Reed's native Murray County when she reached middle school. She said her parents soon divorced, and her mother took on three jobs to provide for Reed and her sisters.
But all the moving caused Reed to fall behind in school, and her frustration and a "bad high school experience" mounted until the day she finally walked out of Murray County High and didn't return.
From age 16 to 19, Reed "floated around in carpet mills," she said, but she worried about how she would support and educate the children she wanted to have.
Education seemed like a way to make a good living and keep a tight-knit family, she said.
"I worked during the day and started taking classes at the high school at night," she said. "I had to get my GED first.
"After I did that, I started night classes at Reinhardt [University]. Then I just didn't stop; I kept going," she said. "I was enjoying learning."
Soon she was enjoying teaching, then landed the job as Gladden Middle School assistant principal and finally the job of Murray County Schools' superintendent, she said.
The Georgia Association of Educational Leaders award is an honor but would have been impossible without her staff, the schools faculties and support from residents, Reed said.
Deborah White, director of leadership development for the association, said officials are looking for outstanding leadership, educational service and service to the organization.
Reed is a role model for others and "has an exemplary service record," she said.
"Sometimes still today I am surprised to be in the position I'm in," Reed said.
Kay McCurdy, a Murray County school board member and a former classmate of Reed's, said she and Reed attended the elementary school in Spring Place together, then Murray High.
McCurdy lost touch with Reed until they both found themselves working for Murray schools, she said.
"I worked for the school system in technology, and she was a teacher at Chatsworth Elementary," McCurdy recalled. "We kept hearing about what a wonderful teacher she was."
As a leader, Reed's "not afraid to step outside the box and think," McCurdy said. "That's what impresses me about her."
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/BenBenton.