When it comes to academic success, the Decatur County district is up against much bigger counties with thousands more students.
Not only are the smaller schools holding their own, they're actually exceeding expectations. Decatur County schools, made up of approximately 5,000 students, is getting top honors. Seven of the county's principals are named "high performance principals" by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and State Superintendent Kathy Cox.
Ralph Jones, Superintendent of Decatur County Schools, says, "It's a lot of responsibility, a lot of accountability, but we got strong principals and that's what it says. This is what this is saying, they're making it work."
The title doesn't come easy. Criteria include high state competency test scores, improved sat scores, and the school's status could not be "needs improvement."
Tommie Howell, a Bainbridge high graduate, a teacher for 20-some years and a principal for five is one of the seven named. He says his deep ties to the area help him make a difference every day.
"To really work with the school you got to know the school, know the personnel. You need to know the students and all."
One senior at Howell's High School can attest to the principal's dedication and hard work.
Reggie Thomas says, "He took his time out with me, helped me be where I am right now."
Howell adds, "Our mission is to find a niche for all of them, find programs and things so they can feel a part of the school and have a positive association."
Under the high performance principals legislation set by Gov. Perdue the seven named are now eligible for a $15,000 supplement if they transfer to a school that is classified as "needs improvement."
One of the principals, John McRae of John Johnson Elementary, has already left to take a job with the Georgia State Board of Education.
As for Principal Howell, he says he is a bobcat through and through and does not plan on leaving Bainbridge high any time soon.