TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—The University of Alabama College of Education Hall of Fame honored five inductees for their outstanding contributions to their profession during a Feb. 11 award ceremony at the North River Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa.
Among the 2023 Hall of Fame honorees are retired Huntsville City School Superintendent Dr. Mary Jane Caylor, retired Jacksonville State University President Dr. William Meehan, late K-12 and higher education leader Dr. Jodi Newton, creator and host of Discovering Alabama Dr. Douglas Phillips, and retired Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross.
These individuals are being celebrated for their dedication, their accomplishments, as well as their admirable character.
The Hall of Fame was established by the UA College of Education Board of Advisors in 2012 to honor and show appreciation to exemplary educators or supporters of education for their contributions to the vocation and its community.
Dr. Mary Jane Caylor
Throughout her career, Caylor held several professional roles in the community of Huntsville and in the field of education. As superintendent of Huntsville City Schools from 1982-1991, she was named superintendent of the year by the Alabama Council of PTAs and state finalist by the American Association of School Administrators for superintendent of the year.
Caylor earned her B.S. in elementary education, a Master of Arts in special education, and an Ed.D. in educational administration and planning, all from The University of Alabama. She also had a Class AA certification in special education.
Before her time as superintendent, Caylor worked as a City of Huntsville juvenile police detective and Madison County juvenile probation officer. Additionally, she served as executive director of Huntsville’s bicentennial celebration in 2005 and an Alabama State Board of Education member for four terms, representing District 8 until 2011. She was also a project manager for the city and key in the establishment of four memorials in downtown Huntsville.
She retired as dean of workforce development at J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College in 2016, but other roles Caylor has dedicated herself to include being on the recruitment team for the Tennessee Base Realignment and Closure Commission, managing leader trips to learn more about successful downtown redevelopment, and being part of the first Leadership Alabama class.
Caylor has a daughter who is a data analyst for the Huntsville City Schools and two grandchildren.
Dr. William Meehan
After dedicating 47 years of his life to Jacksonville State University, Meehan retired from his role as the college’s 11th president in 2015. Forty of those years at JSU were spent as an employee, 16 as its president, and it also happens to be where he and his wife, Elizabeth, first met as students.
Meehan earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from JSU in 1972, going on to earn his master’s and work in the admissions office as a graduate assistant. It was 1976 when he was asked to remain at the school as a full-time biology instructor. In 1999, Meehan earned his doctorate in higher education administration from the University; then in July of that same year, JSU named him as its 11th president.
Meehan dedicated his presidency to educating and helping the students. Under his leadership, the Jax State athletics program also thrived, becoming an Ohio Valley Conference member and earning numerous conference championships.
“When I went into this business, it was to teach and to be with students,” Meehan said. “I think helping students reach their goals and being able to add value to the experience of all those at the university – to the students, to the faculty and staff – if I can say I’ve added value to that experience, that’s been the most rewarding part.”
Dr. Jodi Newton
Dr. Newton, 69, left behind a legacy in educational and community leadership when she passed on Sept. 4, 2022.
She served as superintendent of Homewood City Schools for more than 10 years after being appointed just a day after the previous superintendent announced his retirement. Schools within the system were recognized with several honors throughout Newton’s tenure: the National School of Character Award, 100 Best Communities for Music Education, the What Parents Want Award, school commendation for outstanding achievement for at-risk students under No Child Left Behind, as well as state Department of Education and Governor’s awards.
Another high point of her superintendent career is moving forward with building a new Homewood middle school and having it be the first school in the U.S. to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Other accolades of hers include: being elected president of the Alabama Association of School Administrators and being named Alabama Superintendent of the Year in 2003. Newton later retired in 2008.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Samford University and her M.A. and doctorate degrees from The University of Alabama. Early in Newton’s career, she taught English at Bessemer Academy and Fairfield High school and held various teaching and administrative positions.
She spent most of her life in Homewood and is remembered for finding great joy in family and friends, her kind and loyal spirit, her deep faith, and for loving her work. She was a longtime member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church and adored her involvement with the Hope Institute.
Dr. Douglas Phillips
Phillips has brought the natural wonders of Alabama to viewers for almost 40 years as the creator and host of Emmy award-winning show Discovering Alabama. Not only is it the longest-running, most popular locally produced show on Alabama Public Television, but it is utilized as an educational resource in classrooms across the state.
Discovering Alabama is aimed to supplement K-12 education, and some episodes of Discovering Alabama feature classroom materials, such as lesson plans. The program correlates with the Alabama Course of Study and covers science, history, social studies, geography, and environmental education as it relates to the state of Alabama.
Prior to hosting the TV show, Phillips was an environmental educator for the Alabama Museum of Natural History on The University of Alabama campus. Discovering Alabama is presently produced by UA and the museum in partnership with the Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio.
Dr. Phillips’ other achievements include developing the “Discovering Alabama Model School Program,” penning award-winning books, and helming many state conservation programs, including the Alabama Forever Wild program.
Before retiring, Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross dedicated 18 years to state public schools, as both teacher and administrator, with the purpose of “doing what is best for children.”
Throughout her career, she remained dedicated to ensuring the existence of quality early childhood programs in Alabama and helped acquire more than $7.5 million in grant funding to go toward initiatives and services that benefit low-income children and families. In 2007, she was appointed to the governor’s task force to formulate a plan and oversee the expansion of the Alabama First Class Pre-K program. She and her team made strides in growing and bettering Alabama’s pre-K program to one that is first-rate and statewide, with significant increases in funding, classrooms, participants, and more. In 2012, she was appointed as secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education, then appointed to serve on the Education Commission of the States in 2017. Even after retiring from public service in 2020, Ross continues to advocate for quality early childhood education and support for families in need.
Other accomplishments of Ross’ include guiding the Pre-K Through Third Grade P-3 Integrated Approach to Early Learning and its leadership academy; starting one of the first Alabama Office of School Readiness program for pre-K in the Marshall County School System; leading the launch of the Born Ready initiative; forming a research and evaluation team to assess the positive effects of the state’s early childhood education programs. Alabama is now considered a model and national leader in high-quality early childhood education.
Ross earned Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Master of Arts degree in education leadership from The University of Alabama.
She and her husband currently live in Guntersville. They have two sons and twin grandchildren.