Originally from the neighboring town of Millen, Georgia, 54-year-old Hayley Greene is no stranger to Statesboro. Greene, who is the Public Relations Director for Bulloch County Schools, moved with her family to Claxton when she was in the fifth grade, and she graduated from Claxton High School in 1987.
A mere two weeks after graduation, she moved to Statesboro.
“I started at Georgia Southern College in the summer of 1987, and I was there to watch it become a university and a football powerhouse under Erk Russell,” she said. “I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts/Public Relations and a minor in Journalism.”
Greene grew up on a dairy farm in Millen until her parents divorced. Her mother’s later remarriage allowed Greene to live abroad for a little while.
“When I was 7, my step-father’s career took us to the Middle East,” said Greene. “We lived in Iran for almost two years. We were supposed to have been there five years, but this was just prior to the overthrow of the Shah. Due to the political unrest, we returned home prior to the hostages being taken in November of 1979.”
After brief stops in Jasper, Tennessee and Glennville, Georgia, the family landed in Claxton, where her maternal grandmother’s family is from.
Previously married for 12 years, Greene has four children.
“My ex-husband and I have found a way to still be best friends and co-parent our amazing children that we love dearly,” she said.
Their oldest daughter, Meredith, 23, graduated from the University of Georgia in May last year, and followed in her mother’s footsteps as a public relations practitioner.
“It’s neat to be able to talk the same work language as your daughter,” says Greene.
Middle son Grant, 19, is a freshman at UGA, and the youngest, 17-year-old Joshua, is a junior at Southeast Bulloch High School.
All three children have all been educated in the Bulloch County School District from elementary through high school.
Greene and her ex-husband also had a daughter, Madison Moore, who passed away before birth.
“She would have been 20 this March,” Greene said. “Though that was one of the hardest times of my life, there were so many God moments that happened throughout that time that let me know God was there with me, and he’s given me opportunities to share that testimony with others since that time.”
After she graduated from GSU in 1991, Greene’s first job took her to Middle Georgia (starting in Hawkinsville and then moving to Perry) for 17 years until her return to Statesboro. Ironically, Greene’s college internship gave her a unique perspective on the town she would call home starting in 2008 when her then-husband’s family relocated them to this area.
“I was fortunate to do my college internship with the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau and its then director, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters. I learned so much there, and I made connections there for my first job,” Greene said.
Starting her career with United Pulaski, a public-private economic development partnership in Hawkinsville, Greene has racked up 33 years in the public and private sector of public relations.
United Pulaski later merged with the Hawkinsville-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce during Greene’s tenure there.
“Hawkinsville was a great city to have a first job. For a small, rural community, there were many strong, female leaders in leadership roles. They, along with other great leaders like Brooks Bailey, John Henry Anderson and Mansfield Jennings, really helped guide me and encourage me in my career,” she said.
In 1996, Greene moved to Perry to lead the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce. She then became the Public Relations and Communications Manager for Flint Energies, an electric membership cooperative, in 1998.
Even being a stay-at-home mom did not stop her from being in the public relations realm. Greene freelanced and served as an adjunct instructor at Middle Georgia Technical College while she stayed home with her kids for a five-year period.
While public relations is certainly a passion for Greene, her hobbies include music, writing and genealogy. The writing hobby certainly makes sense when you consider her career choice.
Of music, Greene said, “Music has always been my passion since I was a little girl. My original plan was to go to Mercer University and major in music, but my senior year of high school, my step-dad lost his job, and I remained at home and went to Georgia Southern. I wanted to be a songwriter, and I still haven’t given up on that dream. I have a notebook filled with several I’ve written.”
She has memories from her toddler years of being taught to whistle by her father, and of her aunt teaching her around age 5 to play guitar. She also remembers playing her mom’s records and dad’s eight-tracks whenever she could.
“I joined our church choir when I was in middle school. I was in my high school’s vocal group and girl’s trio. In college, I was in a contemporary Christian band that recorded an album, and I have been part of multiple music ministries over the years as an adult. Besides guitar, I picked up playing piano and handbells along the way,” she said.
Greene said that music is still an important part of her life and that she and her kids love going to concerts. “They know and listen to good music, so I did something right,” she said, smiling.
Despite the stray from her original dream of pursuing music, Greene has certainly made the most of her public relations career. She started with Bulloch County Schools in August 2009 as a Public Relations and Marketing Specialist and in 2019, her title was changed to Public Relations Director.
When discussing public relations as it pertains to the school system, Greene seemed almost philosophical. It’s no secret that social media can be both helpful and harmful, and she has definite opinions on it.
“Social media is a tool of our time. Like any tool, one can choose to use it wisely or unwisely. It’s a powerful, instantaneous, two-way communication tool that we definitely use in our school district communications,” she said, adding that it can be a “source of misinformation, so one should be discerning.”
Social media impropriety and improper use of it can cause disciplinary issues within the school system. Outsiders can watch false stories plague their news feeds while scaring parents and students alike due to an unsubstantiated rumor. That’s where Greene steps in to remain calm. Her philosophy on reporting the hard events and dealing with the tough times is simple.
“Over my 33-year career in public relations, I’ve handled a myriad of different crisis situations from Y2K, to questions about religious freedoms in public schools, to COVID-19. In the difficult times, I try to remind myself of these things: remain calm, remember your purpose and who created you, and don’t take comments personally,” she said.
Greene also works to remain as transparent as possible, while protecting the rights of the students and employees. She also looks to her PR colleagues as her sounding boards, and she says she tries to remember that “this too shall pass, and there’s something to learn from every experience.”
So many of these nuggets of wisdom can be applied to everyday life, and certainly to Greene’s as she has moved to many places and accomplished many things, but also shared in her seasons of pain and doubt.
Greene hasn’t let those seasons damper her love for her job, or for people and feel-good stories.
“I love that I get the privilege of telling people’s good news. School public relations is not for the faint of heart, so when I can witness the excitement and pride of one of our employees, students or parents about us telling their story and having it featured in the news, that keeps me going,” she said. “I really do love sharing people’s stories. I think it’s important to tell those good news stories. There is so much that’s great about public education, and I hope what I do dispels some of the myths about public education.”
That good news includes the articles she writes about the county’s three high school valedictorians each year, a task she particularly cherishes. And one story in particular about a retiring teacher was one that impacted her personally as well as professionally. She got to write about former Sallie Zetterower Elementary School teacher Starr Anderson, who retired after 35 years of teaching first grade at Sallie Z, a school where she’d also spent five years as a student and had done her student teaching.
“I was blessed to have her be my youngest son’s teacher, and she impacted his life in positive ways that I can still see today,” Greene said.
Greene has also seen her years at BCSS come full circle in a way. Last year, she wrote a story about the first cohort of REACH Georgia Scholars who graduated from college. The program is a needs-based college scholarship program and those scholars are identified in middle school.
“To remember these students as seventh-graders, and then to see them obtain their college degrees and move into their careers, is so inspirational. I believe this program is one of the best things we do as a school district,” she said.
Greene said that she feels like writing is in her DNA. Her mother, Meralyn Smith, wrote poetry for years. Her mother lives here in Statesboro and wrote poems for Greene and her brother when they were little.
“(She) wrote some really great ones about our time in Iran and about my maternal grandparents. One day I want to put her poems into a book for my children,” she said.
It’s interesting that Greene would say that writing is in her DNA because another hobby of hers is genealogy. Greene is, in her own words, “a melting pot,” with Scottish, Irish, English and Creek Indian heritage. She has found out some very interesting things about her family and also a “small-world” situation with her ex-husband.
“I had known for some years that my 17th great-grandfather left England in 1609 on the Sea Venture, one of seven supply ships bound for Jamestown. The ships were destroyed by a hurricane off the coast of Bermuda. He survived and over the course of nine months, helped build another ship, the Deliverance, to sail on to Jamestown,” said Greene.
Recently while helping her former husband and her children research his family tree, they discovered one of his ancestors had a similar fate.
“One of his ancestors, Lt. Gen. Sir Thomas Gates, was on the same ship. What are the odds? There’s a replica of the ship, The Deliverance, in Bermuda harbor with a plaque that features the names of the survivors, and their names are on it. It’s on our bucket list to go to Bermuda one day to see it,” she said.
Greene seems to have roots in many places — Scotland, Ireland, Millen, Claxton and Hawkinsville — to name a few. But through her work at the Bulloch County Board of Education, she’s not only growing roots, she’s planting seeds in the minds of future generations and working to protect the future of our community.