‘He never lost a positive attitude’

Former Walker County schools superintendent Harvey Sanford dies at 70

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 1/3/18

Harvey Sanford, a longtime Walker County assistant superintendent of education who was elected as superintendent just before Carbon Hill lost both of its schools to fire and a tornado, died Friday morning due to complications from heart disease. He was 70.

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‘He never lost a positive attitude’

Former Walker County schools superintendent Harvey Sanford dies at 70

Posted

Harvey Sanford, a longtime Walker County assistant superintendent of education who was elected as superintendent just before Carbon Hill lost both of its schools to fire and a tornado, died Friday morning due to complications from heart disease. He was 70.

Sanford’s death was announced this week by his family on Facebook and then by Kilgore-Green Funeral Home in Jasper.

“No formal service is planned. There will be a gathering of family and friends at a later date,” his obituary stated. “His ashes will be dispersed in a private family service.”

According to the obituary, “During Harvey’s long battle with heart disease, he never lost his positive attitude, quick wit and sense of humor. After a short hospitalization, Harvey passed this life with (his wife) Vicki at his side. They shared an amazing 32 years of marriage.” 

“My heart goes out to Vicki and their family,” Walker County Superintendent of Education Jason Adkins said Tuesday night, noting he had known Sanford for most of his life. “Dr. Sanford did a lot of good in the system. I hate to hear of his passing.” 

An Oakman native, Sanford was born on July 19, 1947. He graduated Oakman High School in 1965.

“Growing up in Oakman, Ala., he learned early the value of hard work and cemented the core values that would guide him for the remainder of his life,” according to the obituary. “As a student, Harvey developed a zest for learning and remained an avid reader and learner for the remainder of his life.”

Sanford obtained a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and math at the University of Alabama, as well as a master’s, AA, and a doctorate in administration from the Capstone.

He also had a law degree from the Birmingham School of Law, passing the bar with “flying colors,” according to the obituary.

He started his career as a math and science teacher, first at Cordova High School and then at T.W. Martin. He became supervisor of county instruction for two years before serving as principal at the Sumiton School for nine years.

Sanford had been assistant superintendent of the county system for 17 years coming into the 2006 superintendent primary elections. The superintendent at the time, Alan Trotter, elected not to seek re-election.

On June 4, Sanford won over Johnna Baker by a vote of 8,041, or 61 percent to 5,036, or 39 percent, according to unofficial results at the time. Only 23 days later, on June 27, Carbon Hill High School went up in flames due to an electrical fire, resulting in modular units being erected immediately. On Nov. 10 of the same year, two tornadoes heavily damaged the elementary and junior high school, while the temporary modular campus was hardly damaged. The modular campus was expanded, and Trotter left office, leaving the rest of the rebuilding to Sanford.

Trotter was praised by Sanford after his election for leaving the system in better shape than when he started as superintendent, as well as for helping Sanford. Trotter said in a December 2002 interview that he and Sanford rode together to see the high school burn the night of the fire.

When he ran as a Democrat for a second four-year term in 2006, Sanford said he was proud of the school system, as well as its students, staff and administrators.

“I have to say, I’ve lived in Walker County all my life and I’m dedicated to Walker County. I’ve never wanted to work anywhere else other than Walker County. That’s where I intend to retire from,” he said. “I’m honored I’ve been able to serve a term as superintendent of Walker County Schools.” 

He said he started his term trying to follow through with two commitments he made. The first was by allowing parents to vote on school uniforms, which was turned down. The second was to work on having all the county schools accredited. He said he hoped by the end of that year to do that, and that he wanted to work on systemwide accreditation, as that would mean commitment to minimum standards.

Sanford said he took over when the system was under proration, without even textbooks funded by the state, as well as with both of the Carbon Hill schools to rebuild. He said textbooks were paid out of local funds and no layoffs were made. Fiscal 2005 was completed “with the largest reserve we’ve ever had, $5.4 million.” The new Carbon Hill school had been finished by the time he ran again in 2006 and the new Oakman High School was being completed. Construction for welding and diesel mechanics class space was also underway at the Walker County Center of Technology, and plans were in place for construction of Cordova High School and a new school in Sumiton, as well as construction needs at Curry, Valley, Farmstead and Lupton.

While he said many people think his capital improvement plan was his top priority, Sanford said instruction was at the top of his list. Sanford said the system had started a five-year instructional improvement plan and he said major gains had already been seen. Areas such as reading, writing assessment and the percentage of students passing graduation exams have been on the increase, while Lupton has been named a banner school.

Sanford said in one term the system had gone from basically having no network system to having networks in most schools, having internet access at all the schools, an upgraded bandwidth and millions of dollars in grant money for technology. He said he was working on other tech projects, as well as a program to allow students in Grades 9-12 to get an LPN nursing certification along with their high school diploma.

However, Sanford was defeated in the June 2006 primary by Dr. Vonda Beaty by a vote of 8,814 to 6,623.

Sanford had belonged to the School Superintendents of Alabama, where he was president of District 7’s superintendent group and a member of the Legislative Affairs Committee. He was a member of the Alabama Bar, the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County and the Jasper Kiwanis Club.

According to the obituary, “Harvey enjoyed racquet ball, tennis and golf with his friends, suppers on the back porch with Vicki, home projects or simply watching the deer nibble the hydrangeas along the back fence, birds hover around the feeders and faithful, furry companions, Jack, Rex, Louie, Lucy and Poncho always nearby.” 

He was survived by his wife, Vicki; his daughters, Monica Stewart (Robert) and Adrienne Robinson (Billy); his grandchildren, Kaylor Hodges, Cody Robinson, Dacey Robinson, Conner and Spencer Stewart.