New Fayette County school Superintendent Jeff Bearden last week completed his first three weeks as head of the Fayette County School System. He shared his first impressions in an interview.
“I think the first thing I would like people to know are my first impressions on Fayette County and our school system. And I’m proud to use the term ‘our school system’ now and not the school system I’m looking forward to joining,” Bearden explained.
“I’m impressed. The schools, and I’ve been in almost all of them and have a few more to get to, they are very clean, they are very well-maintained. It’s a very welcoming culture and climate. And that is universal, that’s everywhere I have gone. I’ve been in this business a long time and I know that doesn’t happen by accident. That happens because people take pride in the facility. Our custodians, they own the buildings. They take so much pride in how good those schools look.”
Bearden come from a Maine system with about a quarter of the number of students in the Fayette system.
It might not be the vernacular that some are accustomed to hearing when it comes to public schools, but for Bearden, the idea of customer service is real and is a worthwhile benchmark to assess the ongoing efforts of more than 3,000 employees.
“There is a real commitment to customer service here. I don’t want to say it’s unique, but it’s better than I’ve seen in many, many, many places. You walk in and you’re welcomed,” said Bearden. “I’m the superintendent so I would expect people to welcome me. But, you know, you walk into a place and it has a feel about it. Everywhere I’ve gone has a really good feel about it. Teachers are engaged, kids are engaged, technology is being used and used productively.”
Fayette County’s students also played into Bearden’s first impressions. Some of those impressions came after his hire was confirmed and prior to his arrival in January.
“Back in October I had a chance to visit the five county high schools. During that tour I requested that students be part of those meetings when I met with staff and building principals,” he said. “A consistent theme, and one that made an impression on me, was how the students, without me soliciting a response, told me how they feel at home in their school, how much they feel a part of their school community, how proud they are of their school.”
One of Fayette’s primary areas of focus is on technology and the 21st Century Classroom initiative. Those efforts, and what they mean for learning opportunities, did not escape Bearden’s view.
“I’m really impressed with the emphasis on 21st Century technology learning and the investment the community’s made with the (one-cent sales tax) dollars to get that technology into the classrooms. And again, based on my experience working at other places, a lot of districts might invest in the technology but what they often times fail to do, or don’t have the resources to do, is invest in teaching people how to use it effectively,” said Bearden. “And the goal of technology should be to (enhance) student improvement. That should be the goal of all the resources we have whether it’s textbooks or technology or whatever it may be. I’m real impressed with the high level of our teachers and how they are using technology. That made a huge impression on me.”
Bearden in his initial assessment also noted the work of the school system’s other personnel.
“On top of all that, the people I work directly with at the central office and the other county personnel are a hard-working, dedicated, professional, team-oriented group of individuals. And I’m just glad to be a part of the Fayette County team,” Bearden noted.
Bearden in his comments also noted his desire to establish a strong relationship with members of the Fayette County Board of Education.
“The first Saturday I was here we were supposed to have a board/superintendent workshop and retreat that had to be rescheduled. Now it’s on the 29th,” said Bearden. “And I’m really excited about that day because I think that is a great opportunity for me as a new superintendent. And with a brand new board member and new board leadership, I think it’s an opportunity for us to spend some quality time together, establishing a rapport, establishing a strong relationship, going through our strategic plan and making sure I understand if they have questions or concerns, what may be on the radar screen that they want me to focus on and really defining role and responsibilities.”
Bearden said a representative from the Georgia School Boards Association will be present to help facilitate the meeting.
Viewed as a whole, Bearden had significant praise for Fayette County schools and for their potential in coming years.
“I think it’s an excellent school system. I think it’s a school system that has its challenges as all school systems do. But it’s a system that is poised, I think, to continue to move forward and I’m looking forward to being a part of the process of hopefully taking what is, what I believe to be an outstanding school system, and continue to improve upon that,” Bearden said.