By Anna-Claire Terry
Opelika, Auburn, Alexander City and Lee-Scott are among several school systems that have been home to a Lee County education legend. Dr. Don Roberts is currently in his 46th year in education and his 16th year as headmaster at Lee-Scott Academy.
It was not always in the plan for Roberts to go into education. As a senior in high school, he was preparing to study engineering at Georgia Tech when he had a change of heart. Roberts made a quick switch to the engineering program at Auburn University with the intention of changing his major to education. Two weeks into the semester, he did just that. Roberts earned his education degree from Auburn in 1973, his masters in 1981, and his doctorate in 1997.
“I didn’t even tell my parents about my new major until Christmas,” Roberts said.
He started his career in teaching and coaching in Auburn City Schools before he even graduated. From there, he spent 11 years in Alexander City and 13 years in Opelika City Schools where he was principal of OHS for nine of those years before he landed in the private school system.
Roberts said he tries not to compare public and private schools because they are two different situations, both of which he has enjoyed.
“The biggest difference is the numbers,” Roberts said. “Here, we are smaller and have smaller class sizes. We are able to know our families and our students.”
Roberts said he feels that, although LSA is growing, it is important not to grow to the point of losing what makes attending school there so personal.
“I think that is a big part of the reason that people come here,” he said.
According to Roberts, the “Lee-Scott family” is a concept he works to promote to all of his students and their families. It is all about providing that personal touch in education. It has been Roberts’ experience that the parents of LSA students are very involved in the education of their students and are always willing to assist in any way.
Throughout his years in the education field, his favorite aspect of the job has always been the people that he has had the opportunity to work with, whether it be students, parents, teachers or board members.
“I have always felt that my strength was dealing with people and working with people, and that has been the theme of my entire career,” Roberts said.
To Roberts, the most challenging part of his job continues to be maintaining a high level of excellence because every time the bar of excellence is raised, the expectation is also raised to a higher level.
“The challenge is to keep getting better and better. I have always wanted my school to be the best in whatever it is that we are doing, and we work really hard to be the best,” Roberts said. He also said it is key to work with people who have the same goal of excellence.
Roberts has a history of achieving excellence over the years, which led him to being unanimously voted into the Alabama Independent School Association Hall of Fame in recognition of his service to local schools and the state organization. He will be inducted in October in Montgomery. Roberts said he is very honored and very humbled to have such recognition.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Roberts is how he chooses to enjoy his free time. On the side, Roberts is a food critic/ restaurant blogger with a significant following.
“I tell people I don’t golf, hunt or fish, but I eat pretty good,” he joked.
Roberts posts reviews of not only the Opelika/Auburn area’s best restaurants, but also the must-visit spots all over the country and world. However, he focuses on the southeast of the United States. According to Roberts, one of the most enjoyable aspects of his hobby is the traveling that comes with it. He does not necessarily look for the fanciest restaurants, just the best.
“It’s all about the experience,” Roberts said.
His reviews can be found on his blog at DiningwithDon.com or on his Dining With Don Facebook page. He plans to further develop this hobby when he retires.
Dining With Don just might take off sooner than some people expected because Roberts is actually announcing his retirement this year.
“I am looking forward to doing something else,” Roberts said. “I say ‘retiring,’ but I’m really just moving on to my next gig.”
Roberts does not know what the future holds, but he is not ruling anything out. He is looking forward to controlling his own time and spending more time with his family, particularly his grandchildren.
“I haven’t not gone to school in the fall since I was six years old,” he said.
As the Don Roberts era approaches an end in this area’s schools, there are two things Roberts has always made sure people realize about him.
One is that he is very strong in his Christian faith. He tries to live it instead of just talking about it. The other is that he is a huge believer in the importance of family. He tries to encourage young couples to put their relationships with God and each other before anything else.
“People who know me know this is what I’m all about. It shapes everything I do,” Roberts said.
His profession as an educator has had a significant impact on his life. He appreciates every student and educator he has come into contact with, and he is particularly grateful for the cities in which he had the opportunity to fulfill his career goals. Roberts said he loves this area and he has been blessed to work in great school systems for his entire career.
According to Roberts, the Opelika/Auburn area values education. He said that is a very powerful statement for this community to make and he is glad to have been a part of it for so long.
“I believe so much in education, and I think there is nothing more powerful than a teacher. They impact the lives of people they touch, both positively and negatively,” Roberts said.