COVINGTON -- The community as well as students and staff at the Newton County School System welcomed a new face this week -- Dr. Gary Mathews began working as the new superintendent of schools on Thursday morning.
In March, the Newton County Board of Education appointed Mathews to replace retiring Superintendent Steven Whatley at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
Mathews said he's looking forward to working with everyone in the district, and has already met with Deputy Superintendent Dennis Carpenter and Assistant Superintendent Linda Hayden to discuss the curriculum, administrative organization and protocols. He also did a little homework before officially beginning his first day.
"Dr. Whatley has been most gracious and helpful in the transition," Mathews said Friday. "Chairman (Cathy) Dobbs has been the same; we've been in constant contact."
He, his wife Pat and one of his five children made it to their new Covington home in early June and look forward to discovering the town, he said.
"I love the area," he said. "The neighbors and other folks I've met in the community are kind and most welcoming."
He said they also seem to understand Georgia's negative economic forecast and how that affects education and the community -- something to which he's not a stranger.
During his last two years as superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools in Virginia, $9 million was cut in a school district half the size of Newton County public schools. When he worked in Texas, $9 million was cut over a three-year period due to the economy.
"I know what it is to feel that anguish," he said. "And I understand all that it means for the community."
In the coming months, he said he plans to "look, listen and learn" while meeting with teachers, school administrators, support staff, PTA representatives, government and community leaders, clergy and the school board members.
"Hopefully, we'll enjoy a mutual swap of ideas as to the education of our children and the operation of our public school system as we establish a positive working relationship," he said in a message to NCSS staff and community members on the system's Web site this week. "Our children are counting on us."
After doing so, some changes might result, he said. He's also waiting on more news to come from the Georgia Department of Education regarding the budget.
And, Mathews is looking at recent data.
"I've been informed of preliminary results on Georgia tests ... and we have some room for lots of improvement across the board," he said Friday.
He said job one needs to be teaching for learning with all students. In other systems where he's worked during his nearly 35 years in education, he said what has been most successful for academics is a data-driven, research-based approach to curriculum and instruction.
Mathews said he is opposed to making up programs and hoping for impact, but prefers to look at what the system's data say and scan research to see what works for each subject and grade level.
He's also interested in getting involved in the community, especially in the Rotary Club.
He also wants to reintroduce a key communicators program for community outreach.
Mathews and incoming school board member Greg Proffitt, who will take over for former member C.C. Bates in District 5, will be sworn in on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the board room of the Newton County BOE building.