May 24—Growing up, Rhonda Samples dreamed of a career in fashion, but it turns out father really did know best.
“My dad always told me that I was gonna be a teacher,” Samples said. “And I said, ‘That’s the furthest thing from my mind. I’m not going to be a teacher.'”
Fast forward and Samples has built a reputation both locally and statewide for her efforts in student career development. As the executive director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education for Hall County Schools, she was given the Community Service Award by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce during its May 12 gala.
“She has been recognized not only here locally but around Georgia as one of the best,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the chamber. “So we’re very fortunate to have her, and she’s been a great partner in working with us and our industries over many years now to expand those work-based learning opportunities for high school juniors and seniors.”
Samples oversees work-based learning programs across the district, including 60 career pathways. She is also the principal and CEO of Lanier College and Career Academy, a high school in Flowery Branch that focuses on career development and connects students with local industry.
“I live and breathe CTAE,” Samples said. “They refer to me as the CTAE cheerleader in the district.”
“Rhonda Samples is amongst the most dedicated, caring and gifted people I have ever worked with,” said Superintendent Will Schofield. “She has a heart of gold and knows more about workforce development than anyone I know. She is truly a community treasure.”
A Gainesville native, Samples has been teaching in Hall County Schools for more than 40 years. She began her career at 21 years old, teaching marketing at North Hall High, where she graduated. Having earned a bachelor of science in fashion merchandising from Brenau University, she nearly took a job with Belk out of college. But not wanting to relocate to Thomaston, Ga., she decided on a career in teaching instead.
Since then, she has developed a passion for helping students find theirs.
“Everybody’s got to have a career; if I could wave a magic wand, I’d like to see every student complete a career-tech pathway and do an internship before they graduate high school,” she said. “There’s value in that, because it helps a student find their passion.”
Samples’ favorite part of the job is connecting students with local businesses, she said. In April, LCCA held its inaugural hiring fair, where hundreds of high school seniors spoke with employers and filled out applications.
For Samples, the event brought things full circle.
Some of the same employers offering jobs to students came up to her and said, “I’m where I’m at today because of some things that I learned in your classroom.”
“I love my job,” she said. “That’s the reason I have not retired.”
Over the years, she has built the CTAE program and says it is one of the top programs in Georgia. “I’m a very competitive person,” she said, “so I want us to be the best district in the state.”
She earned her master’s degree in marketing from the University of Georgia in 1983, her education specialist in 1989, and her director of technology and career education endorsement and educational leadership in 2006.
In her free time, Samples spends time with her husband, her two adopted daughters and her grandson. She enjoys traveling to the beach and going on cruises.