You are entering your 30th year in public education having started as a substitute teacher while in college, and then going on to serve as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent of administration before being elected superintendent in 2016.
Of all the positions you have held in public education, which has been the most rewarding and why?
While I have enjoyed every position in which I have had the blessed opportunity to serve, I must admit that serving as a principal was, perhaps, the most rewarding of any job I have had. The ability to work with teachers and staff daily, to support the educating of young people absent the political world of being an elected official, makes the school principalship experience the best of my career. As a principal, you can influence change almost immediately. As someone who makes decisions at warp speed, and expects and appreciates quick and thorough implementation, being a principal really fit my personality better than any other role that I have had.
As a proud product of the Suwannee County School District (SCSD) yourself, was there a defining moment/impetus when you decided to run for school superintendent or was the superintendency part of a long-term career plan for you?
Oddly enough, I never aspired to be a superintendent, here in Suwannee or anywhere else, for that matter. That said, I am honored to serve as superintendent. God has a plan for everything and everyone, but your plans do not always align with his plans. With that thought in mind, I was serving as Assistant Superintendent of Administration when the previous superintendent announced his retirement; as soon as that happened I began receiving contacts from people telling me that I needed to run for superintendent. I continually said “NO”, not because I did not think that I could do the job, but more out of a sense of being comfortable with being a worker bee. I also did not want the political pressures of the job to affect my family, along with the time requirements that the superintendency requires. Finally though, I decided to run because I felt that it was time for me to see the District through our next chapter, and, in a way, give back to the District that has been so good to me for so many years both as a student and employee.
When you became SCSD superintendent in 2016, the district had a “C” rating, however since your tenure, the district has consistently received a grade of B and had a graduation rate above the state average. What key initiatives has the district implemented under your leadership that you attribute to this continued positive trajectory of academic success?
Interestingly enough, we are not an “initiative” or “program” type District. We do not subscribe to or wave the banner of any particular initiative or program. Conversely, I, personally, have pushed back on such things as only the “flavor of the day,” believing that sound teaching and learning, the guts of what makes schools and students successful, really has not changed over time. Coming into the superintendency, the leadership traits that I exhibited as a principal were the ones that I have tried to adopt at the District level. We are a “people first” District. The District Office exists to support the service departments and school administrations. The school administrations and departments exist to support and provide the tools and environment needed for a nurturing and safe learning atmosphere. It is at that level that our support staff and teachers do the hard work of positively impacting student growth. I could be easily accused of being a “hands-off” leader, and that may be true to a great extent. However, hiring great people, allowing them to perform great work, providing the necessary supports to do that work, and staying out of their way, has, in my opinion, been the key to our district's success.
Is there a single moment in your career that you are most proud of?
This question is so very difficult to answer, looking back I have so many fond memories and numerous great people that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years. Selfishly, I would have to answer that being hired to return to my alma mater as a high school principal was the most personally satisfying. There is something very special about returning to the halls that you walked as a student, to now lead the students, faculty, and staff of those very same hallways and classrooms.
What do you feel is currently the most pressing issue in your district?
I do not think we are unlike any other district in this respect. The issues are relatively the same, just scaled differently. What I fear is that over the next several years it will become increasingly difficult to find, recruit, and retain, high quality people…and it is pretty hard now. When I am out and around the District, or meeting with a cohort of new employees, instructional or non-instructional, I always sincerely thank them for choosing to work in the Suwannee County School District, because I know how hard they are to come by, and that chances are, they all had other options.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
Over regulation. I know that is overly simplistic, but I believe this trend, not only in Florida, but also around the nation, is what is driving our teacher and staff shortages. I am for accountability; however, the amount of “things” schools and districts are required to do only seems to mushroom. The Florida School Laws Manual has grown by over 400 pages in less than 10 years! Requirements continue to be added, and none seem to fall off. People who feel like their wagon is not only too full, but overloaded, and also that they are being micromanaged to death, do not brag to their neighbors, family, and own children about pursuing a career in education. I think when we look back, we will find that it was a problem that “we” created. The idea in economics of the law of diminishing returns applies!
If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?
I would deregulate to the greatest extent possible. I would set the bar of expectation at the State level, send the block grants of revenue to the districts, let them run their districts, and adjust their block grant revenue UP or DOWN annually, depending on whether or not they met the minimum bar set. The bar of expectation would be based on a nationally recognized assessment twice per year, such as PSAT, ACT, and SAT; one pre-test and one post-test. Finally, I would eliminate the U.S. Department of Education.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
Dangerous question. I am an avid freshwater fisherman, love limited amounts of tobacco snuff, carry a concealed pistol everywhere I go, and listen exclusively to contemporary Christian music on the radio.
Book you are currently or recently finished reading:
I am not a book reader. “WHAT! How can you say that?” I am an article reader and read many articles daily from at least a dozen varied sources. I find that you can boil down most books…truth be told…into about a three- to five-page article, and for me, get the same value. Recently my family and I went to see the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing.” It was a book my wife and daughter had read over the course of three weeks. When I asked them if the movie or book was better, they exclaimed… “THE MOVIE!” My response to their answer repulsed them when I said, “I’m glad I only invested two hours!”
Individual you admire most for their positive impact on public education:
Dr. Phillip C. Schlechty. Although his work is more than 20 years old now, having been introduced to his work when Dr. David Mosrie brought him to Tallahassee for a work group with superintendents and school administrators, I found his work to be extremely valuable and practical for the everyday administrative practitioner working in the trenches. A commonsense approach to things in education, in many cases, is uncommon.
Any additional comments & thoughts you would like to share?
I am eternally honored to have served as a superintendent. God has blessed me tremendously over the course of my career. It is true that God does not call those equipped to do a job; He equips those He has called to do a job. There is no way in my human flesh that I could deal with what we have to deal with as superintendents, without Him equipping me daily! In my own flesh, I would make a mess of it. In HIS strength, he has equipped me to be decisive and bold, with a complete disregard for the political outcome. In HIS strength, I am able to make more good decisions daily than bad ones!