HOSCHTON — Mill Creek High School Principal James Markham, 69, was hoping to mark his 50-year milestone as an educator, but health issues have forced him to cut that goal short.
The veteran administrator recently announced his plans to retire on Dec. 1, leaving the state’s largest high school after a run of several decades with Gwinnett County Public Schools and 45 years total as an educator.
Having opened Mill Creek nine years ago, working as a teacher and assistant principal at Parkview High School for nine years and Berkmar for 10 years, Markham said being employed by the local district has been a good experience.
“The opportunities Gwinnett County Public Schools has afforded us have been incredible,” said Markham, whose wife, Ruth, is principal at Jackson Elementary in Lawrenceville. “We both came here as teachers, and we’ve both enjoyed our leadership positions here.”
Leaving his leadership post, Markham said, was necessary.
“I felt like it was the best time to go ahead and retire, rather than become an absentee principal because of my health,” he said. “I felt like it was time to step away and take care of this health business.”
Markham’s multiple myloma, a type of cancer that starts in bone marrow, recently came out of remission. “I was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam,” he said. “This is a direct result of that exposure.”
Having been diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago, he has battled it for some time, but felt that his upcoming treatment regimen would require him to miss substantial amounts of time away from school.
“Furthermore,” Markham said, “I felt like it was just time to step away and do some of the things I’ve always wanted to do.”
One of those things includes penning non-fiction books. “I’m writing a quasi-autobiographical novel as well as a book on leadership that perhaps principals could one day put to good use,” he said.
As a longtime administrator in GCPS, Markham said it’s been a good run.
“I like the fact that principals in this district have massive amounts of autonomy in terms of our leadership styles,” Markham said. “We’re not a top down dogmatic leadership style. We’re provided with advice and guidance, but basically we get the opportunity to lead entire communities.”
Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Markham’s community leadership has been effective.
“Dr. Markham has had a long and successful career,” Wilbanks said. “He certainly has influenced a lot of students, as well as adults, in our school system. We will certainly miss him, but wish him well in his retirement.”
A spokesperson with the district said the search has begun to name Markham’s successor.
Markham and his wife live in Chateau Elan. They raised two children and have six grandchildren.