Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum, who helped guide his school system and community through the trauma of a young student’s kidnapping at gunpoint and the murder of an employee, has been named the 2014 Superintendent of the Year by the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA).
Bynum, who received the honor from his peers, will represent the SSA at the National Conference on Education in Nashville, Feb. 13-15. He was selected from nine finalists throughout the state.
“This represents not only our school system, but our community, because we’re all in this together,” he said of the award.
Bynum was a stalwart for Dale County through a dramatic situation in early 2013 when a gunman shot and killed bus driver Charles Poland, Jr. and then kidnapped a student from the school bus.
Poland, 66, was hailed as a hero who gave his life to protect the children on his bus. Authorities said Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded the stopped bus on Jan. 29, 2013, and demanded two boys between six and eight years old. When Poland blocked his way, Dykes shot him several times taking his life. Due to his courageous act, twenty-one students had time to escape through the rear emergency exit, although the gunman was able to take a five-year-old boy named Ethan.
After seven intense days with hostage negotiators, lawmen finally stormed the gunman’s bomb laden underground bunker, killing him and miraculously rescuing the child.
“Our community, state and nation came together at a very difficult time with the murder of Mr. Charles Poland and our student being held hostage for seven days,” Bynum said. “This event shows how precious life is and to live each day serving others, just like Charles Poland.”
Dr. Linda Young, president of Wallace Community College, said Bynum was unshakable during the ordeal.
“All watched with much admiration as the Dale County School System, under Donny’s capable leadership, responded with grace and compassion and emerged more united - truly a reminder of how we should respond when faced with adversity.”
Bynum has spent most of his life in Southeast Alabama, receiving his B.S. in education from Troy University, a masters of science in school administration, and an AA degree in school administration from Troy University-Dothan.
He began his career in education as a teacher and coach in Dale County schools, later becoming principal of G.W. Long Elementary School. From 2004-08, he was an education specialist for the State Department of Education. He returned to Dale County in January 2009 to become superintendent of education.
Elfriede “Fred” Marsh, AEA’s UniServ director for Coffee, Dale and Henry counties, describes Bynum as “a true asset to work with.”
Marsh, who was previously a classroom teacher in Eufaula for 21 years, said of Bynum, “He’s just one of those people who is always going to bend over backwards to help. He’s very compassionate.”