HOTSEAT- Action Atkins: The real Rosa's ready to roll

Rosa Atkins has moved and unpacked the boxes, and dealt with tropical storm Ernesto, but Charlottesville's new school superintendent is still getting "mentally settled."

She's adjusting to living away from her family in Midlothian. And she's taken the reins of a school system recently roiled by a community-bruising debate over former superintendent Scottie Griffin. 

Other than bits and pieces, she says, the subject of her predecessor did not come up during the interview process until she went out to lunch with director of finance Ed Gillaspie.

"I asked Ed, 'Tell me what happened,'" recalls Atkins from the superintendent's office on Dairy Road. "He said, 'It was different for every person.' And that was enough."

Atkins is unfazed by low-voiced murmurings that when the city's first female African-American superintendent didn't work out, it was assumed that her replacement would be the same.

"It never crossed my mind," says Atkins, "that she was black, I'm black. She was female, I'm female. So what? I'm a different person."

Atkins was assistant superintendent in Caroline County, and despite its rural character, she describes Caroline as very similar to Charlottesville: a school system of about 4,000 students, six schools instead of Charlottesville's nine, made up of people "not hurried, easygoing, innovative, and holding dialogues."

Here, of course, she's the boss. "That's the biggest difference," she laughs. 

Growing up in Emporia, Atkins rounded up kids and played school on the steps of her house. "I was always the teacher in my neighborhood," she recalls.

Her first experience in a real classroom– as a pregnant substitute teacher– was traumatic, and she's reluctant to relate it even today. 

"A student got upset with me and pulled the chair out from under me," she says. "That was the last day I substituted."

She went home, had her son... and came back to school. "I was determined that incident would not keep me from education," she says. 

Once she got a full-time position, there was no going back. "It became a passion for me," she says. "In the summer, I couldn't wait to get back to the students."

Asked about the scariest part of her job as top administrator, Atkins mentions seeing football players on the football field. 

"I can do the programmatic stuff and policy and lead staff, but developing that relationship with students... I can't provide for them unless I know what they need," she explains.

At the end of her inaugural superintendent year, Atkins wants to see the teachers, administrators, and staff as excited as they are now.

And she wants Charlottesville to know there are two sides to its new superintendent. Underneath that professional exterior, there's a tomboyish cut-up who loves to laugh and who has an adventurous streak that relishes a new challenge.

"I'll try anything– almost anything– at least once," she says. "I'm superintendent, but I'm a person, too. It's a job I do, but it's not who I am."

Age: You may have the same answer I used to give my son: around 39.

Why here? Teaching is my passion, and I can do it surrounded by wonderful nature and great people.

What's worst about living here? Missing family, seeing the mountains and longing to go to them

Favorite hangout? Wooded walking trails, the park, high in the mountains surrounded by trees and nature

Most overrated virtue? I will give you an answer to that only if you promise not to tell.

People would be surprised to know: I love "high thrill" adventures such as hang gliding or scuba diving. I'd love to learn to parachute.

What would you change about yourself? I like being 5'4", but the notion in the minds of others that it's not tall should be adjusted.

Proudest accomplishment? I'm a former Army Reservist and an expert with an M16.

People find most annoying about you: I don't know. No one has ever had the nerve to tell me!

Whom do you admire? Military personnel– they volunteer to put their lives on the line for my freedom and the freedom of my family.

Favorite book? I actually have two: the Bible and Charlotte's Web.

Subject that causes you to rant? The refusal to let go of a negative experience. Enjoying life today is more important than reliving the pain from yesterday.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? The use of optic fiber to give color to translucent concrete. No more grey concrete buildings!

What do you drive? 2006 Ford F150

In your car CD player right now: Jeff Majors spirituals

Next journey? Interior Alaska– glaciers and mountains 

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Not me. I can't remember ever getting into trouble. My brothers and sisters may not agree.

Regret: That I was not the first child born to Mom and Dad. My brothers and sister needed me to be the oldest!

Favorite comfort food: Mashed potatoes

Always in your refrigerator: Since I no longer have time to cook, TV dinners, bottled water, and apples

Must-see TV: TBN and PBS documentaries 

Favorite cartoon: The Smurfs, especially Papa Smurf

Describe a perfect day. A house full of family and friends, a good football game, laughter and food

Walter Mitty fantasy: My husband and I are wealthy and live on a lake in the Adirondacks.

Who'd play you in the movie? I would love to say Halle Barry, but my son would get me for continuing to mislead him about my age.

Most embarrassing moment? The day I saw the back of a man and grabbed him because I thought he was my husband.

Best advice you ever got? Love your neighbor as yourself.

Favorite bumper sticker? If you can read this bumper sticker, you're following too close!

Rosa Atkins


Rosa Atkins with kids on the bus