By Ashley Tiedt | Photos by Mountain Brook Schools
“Providing an effective, challenging and engaging education for every one of our students.”
It is the purpose statement for the Mountain Brook School District. The statement was there prior to Dr. Richard “Dicky” Barlow’s tenure and will be there after he is gone, but until then, he starts each day with the mission in mind.
Dr. Barlow was raised in Tucker, Georgia, where he attended Tucker High School. After graduation, he attended Georgia State University on a basketball scholarship. He majored in business and had plans to move back to Tucker and go into business with his father, who was a manufacturer’s representative for a plumbing supplies company.
“We had it planned out, but then when I started playing basketball, I decided I wanted to coach, so I changed my major over to education,” Dr. Barlow says.
He was hired by Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia, as a basketball coach and physical education teacher. When the school system asked if he would also teach science instead of physical education, Dr. Barlow returned to school to receive his certification in Science Education. He spent five years there before deciding to leave education behind.
“I was just going through some hard times in my life, and I decided to take a year off,” he explains. “I was unemployed for about a month and a half before I got bored. I took a job outside of education.”
Luckily, he wouldn’t be out of education for long. About six months into his sabbatical, Dr. Barlow received a letter from a friend encouraging him to go into education administration. While he was flattered, he didn’t see a path there.
Two weeks later, he received a call from the first principal he ever worked for, asking him to come to his new school district and interview.
“He asked me to apply for a job as a School Intervention Specialist,” Dr. Barlow says. “I told him I was honored that he would call, but I needed him to explain to me what a school intervention specialist does.”
A school intervention specialist assists with the academic and behavioral issues of at-risk students at a school.
“He explained to me that a lot of kids were falling through the cracks, and he wanted to bring me in to talk with them and find out what they needed to be successful,” he explains.
The school system was Brookwood High School in Snellville, Georgia. It was home to more than 2,500 high schoolers, which was a large school for the time. Dr. Barlow interviewed and got the job, and he worked in this position for four years. After earning his Master of Administration and Supervision from Georgia State University, Dr. Barlow set his sights on the vice principal position. He served in that capacity with Brookwood from 1992 to 1996.
In 1996, Dr. Barlow followed Dr. David Stiles to Alabama, where the duo worked as the principal (Stiles) and assistant principal (Barlow) of Mountain Brook High School until 2002.
“Then one day, former Superintendent Dr. Charles Mason walked into my office and said, ‘Are you ready to be principal?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I am,’” Dr. Barlow recalls. “Except, I was not expecting it at all. That’s what you’re supposed to say, right? I went, and I interviewed for the job. He called me and said, ‘You were the one we chose.’”
He was named the principal at Mountain Brook High School and served in that position for six years through 2008.
Towards the end of Dr. Mason’s career, he invited Dr. Barlow to a lunch meeting that would be a defining moment in Dr. Barlow’s life.
“We sat down, and I said, ‘Rumor has it you’re going to retire,’ and he quickly told me he was planning to hang around for a few more years,” he says. “He asked me what I was going to do, which took me by surprise.”
He explained to Dr. Mason how he hoped to progress in his career and eventually become a superintendent in a school district other than Mountain Brook. Dr. Mason quickly questioned why he wouldn’t want to stay in the community.
“I said, ‘Mountain Brook is one of the best school systems in the nation, and I’ve never been a superintendent before,” Dr. Barlow notes. “Why would anybody want me to be their superintendent?’”
Dr. Mason told me it was because I was already so ingrained in the Mountain Brook community, and the people knew I was trustworthy.
The next week, the school board approached Dr. Barlow, telling him they had heard he wanted to be the superintendent. He quickly explained that was not the way the conversation with Dr. Mason had happened. The board had faith in Dr. Barlow and suggested he transfer to the central office to work with Dr. Mason. The plan was that Dr. Barlow would have an opportunity to learn and be mentored by Dr. Mason.
When Dr. Mason retired, the school system did a nationwide superintendent search. At the end of the process, Dr. Barlow was appointed to the position. Just prior to his appointment, he went back to school to obtain his doctorate from Samford University.
“That was in 2009, and here it is almost 14 years later,” he explains. “We’ve gone through Covid and the Great Recession. It’s been quite a ride.”
In late 2022, Dr. Barlow was named the “2023 Schneider Electric Superintendent of the Year” at the School Superintendents of Alabama’s fall conference. If you ask him to talk to you about this accomplishment, he will quickly point you to the team of educators who serve this community.
“You have to build a team of great people around you,” Dr. Barlow adds. “I want to be really clear about the fact that the reason I’m superintendent of the year is because we have great students, great teachers, great administrators and a great community. They set me up to be Superintendent of the Year. We have a great central office staff and phenomenal leaders at our individual schools. We say that teachers are the leaders of our school. You go into any school and a receptionist greets you; our staff is the lifeblood of our school system. To be a great superintendent, you have to realize that it’s not about you. I steer the ship in the right direction, but it’s their ideas that get us where we need to go. It’s rare that I’m the smartest person in the room when I’m with my staff.”
Dr. Barlow loves the community of Mountain Brook and the people in it. It is clear that his love extends to the staff and the students. He is passionate about hiring good teachers who accelerate students, preparing them to become whatever they want to be and maybe eventually, the next superintendent of Mountain Brook Schools.
- Dr. Barlow met his wife when he moved to Birmingham. They have three children Luke, 20, Kate, 19 and Sally, 16.
- Just four days before his first day as principal of Mountain Brook High School, Dr. Barlow’s oldest son, Luke, was born.
- Dr. Barlow played the guitar on a ship in the Aegean Sea, leading others in worship.
- He also played basketball against Michael Jordan in college.
- While he completed his flight training to become a pilot, he never took the test to become a pilot.