Mark MyGrant, principal of North Atlanta High, will retire at the end of this school year.

On the Friday before the last day of school at North Atlanta High, the students were on a mental countdown. They squeezed through the hallways, some holding hands, filling the air with the smell of cologne, herded by teachers holding black walkie-talkies.

For their principal, Mark MyGrant, the end of school will mean the summer of his career after his five years as North Atlanta’s principal and 33 years as an educator. In his soft, unaccented Midwestern voice, he talked about life after retirement, at times sounding as restless as the students counting the interminable minutes.

Being a principal is fun, he said, but it is busy.

“You do inhale a lot and you forget to exhale with every breath,” MyGrant said. “I’m starting to exhale now, and it feels good.”

MyGrant grew up in Kokomo, Ind., and got his bachelor’s in education at Indiana University and a master’s and specialist’s degree at Emory University. He started teaching in Atlanta Public Schools in 1984. He moved to North Atlanta High from Sutton Middle in 2007, having served as principal there for 10 years. He’s been the principal of many of the North Atlanta seniors since they were in sixth grade.

Education, and North Atlanta High with its 1,365 students, can be serious business. MyGrant fights stress with a smile. His students and assistant principal said MyGrant lightens the mood when everyone else tenses up. He effectively communicates and sincerely listens, they said.

MyGrant said he loves the school, loves his students and loves his job. As he inches closer to retirement, he said he stares longer at the school each day when he leaves to go home. It’s a juxtaposition of gray stone and red brick, crowded athletic fields, located on Northside Drive, a narrow and busy street.

He shakes his head.

“It’s hard to leave something you love,” he said.

MyGrant will launch a new career. He’s going to sell real estate, partnering with District 4

Mark MyGrant will join District 4 School Board member Nancy Meister in the real estate business when he retires at the end of this school year.

Atlanta Board of Education member Nancy Meister, a local Realtor with Beacham and Company. He doesn’t know a thing about selling homes. That intrigues him.

“Now is the time for me to be the learner,” MyGrant said.

He can’t walk away from the school, not totally. He will remain on the board of the North Atlanta High School Foundation, raising money and talking up the school he turned into a must-visit for college recruiters.

“We have definitely reached the tipping point at North Atlanta where success is inevitable,” he said.

Melissa Gautreaux, his assistant principal, followed him from Sutton. As she answered back-to-back phone calls, inspected questioned skirt lengths and loaned a student her stapler, she said dealing with kids is easy. The challenge, she said, is listening to everyone else, then making them all happy. The goals of parents, teachers and administrators can be different, and often in conflict, she said.

If he fails, “He’s the one that’s going to take the heat for anything wrong,” Gautreaux said.

She said MyGrant’s built support for Sutton and public school in general at a time when many parents were moving into private schools after elementary.

The Sutton parents adore him, Gautreaux said. North Atlanta parents do, too.

Gautreaux said MyGrant received so many invitations to parties in his honor he had to say, “Enough.” In lieu of gifts, he asked parents to set up a student grant fund in his honor with the North Atlanta High School foundation. As of May 18, it had raised $15,000.

MyGrant established “The College Zone” at North Atlanta, a program helping students and parents troubleshoot the tricky college and scholarship application process. When he started it, students at North Atlanta received $2.5 million in scholarships. Last year the students won about $30 million in scholarships.

Outgoing North Atlanta High principal Mark MyGrant said a sense of humor is an essential part of being a principal. He’s known as a prankster.

Gautreaux said MyGrant’s penchant for pranks endeared him to many. He once rode a Sutton student’s confiscated skateboard through the halls. A few months ago, he poked fun at a new fad, students carrying old-school landline telephone receivers and hooking them up to their cell phones. MyGrant confiscated those, too, only to be seen hours later at afternoon bus duty, chatting away on one.

MyGrant said Gautreaux forgot to mention that he’d ride his unicycle around campus. His parting advice for his successor or any administrator: Keep a sense of humor.

“Don’t ever forget why you’re doing this,” he said.

At May 18 graduation rehearsals, students flocked to MyGrant’s side. MyGrant teased one of them, Ravin Martin, for giving him gray hairs. Martin denied it, but then flashed a grin and confessed to parking in the wrong lot when he knew he wasn’t allowed. MyGrant had threatened to tow his car. Martin will attend Georgia Perimeter College for his first two years.

Malik Epps will attend Harvard and study economics. Epps didn’t think he’d get into Harvard. MyGrant’s been Epps’ principal since he was in sixth grade. He said recently MyGrant calmed students down as they prepared to take their international baccalaureate exams. Epps said the students will miss their fun-loving principal.

“He makes school more of a fun place when it’s not.”

Malik Epps, a senior, will attend Harvard. He says students will miss Mark MyGrant when he retires at the end of this school year.

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of